Wajib – movie review

Life isn’t straightforward for Palestinians living in Israel. There’s no place like home. The bond between father and son remains strong even if they often don’t see eye to eye. These are just some of the takeaways from Wajib. This slice-of-life drama features a real-life father and son playing a father and son.

The plot concerns a divorced dad, Abu Shadi (Mohammad Bakri), whose wife left him 20 years ago. A respected school teacher, Abu Shadi was left to bring up his two children – a son, Shadi (Saleh Bakri) and a daughter, Amal (Maria Zriek) – alone. Now Amal is getting married and Shadi returns home from Italy to carry out a local tradition, prevalent in the north of Palestine. The term “wajib” translates as “duty”. In this case, the duty requires the son to drive around town with his father delivering wedding invitations. The piece revolves around the interaction they have with each other and the people they meet.

Friction is in the air even before the duo clambers into Abu Shadi’s beloved and beaten-up old Volvo. Shadi thinks the exercise of personally distributing wedding invitations is outdated and meaningless. For his father, it’s about maintaining important community rituals. On a broader scale, Abu Shadi must navigate the politics that dictate life in Nazareth for Palestinians. That clearly doesn’t please his son. Further, even though he has never met her, Abu Shadi doesn’t approve of his son’s girlfriend. He wants Shadi to move back home and find a local girl.

Shadi – who’s an architect – also bemoans the fact that the neighbourhood has gone to rack and ruin, with rubbish piling up everywhere and plastic tarps spoiling the streetscape. And a sting in the tail is the situation involving his mother.

Writer and director Annemarie Jacir (Salt of this Sea) brings a worldly, wise and witty eye to this picture of family dynamics. The filmmaker is a Palestinian, born in Bethlehem, raised in Saudi Arabia and educated in New York.

You can reasonably argue that not much happens in Wajib; yet it reveals a great deal. We gradually piece together the situation of this family – how they live, what is meaningful to them individually and collectively, how they scrap and make up … and through it all respect one another. It’s about new ways of seeing the world against age-old traditions.

Wajib has credibility from go to whoa. The many and varied characters in the piece appear totally real. You care about what happens to them. The performances, especially from the two leads, are strong and natural. The moods shift from frustrated, combative and angry to disappointed, reflective and accepting, and then back again.

I liked what I saw. Jacir has crafted an insightful and engaging movie.

Director: Annemarie Jacir
Cast: Mohammad Bakri, Saleh Bakri
Release Date: 11 October 2018 (limited)
Rating: M

Alex First

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