Saturday, 13 October 2018

The Current Cinema - Mighty enthusiasm for WAJIB (Annemarie Jacir, 2017)

Wajib screened at the Sydney Film Festival without attracting any attention from the Film Alert reviewing team. Such are the vagaries of personal selection without obligation. Maybe when its country of origin is listed as Palestine, France, Germany, Colombia, Norway, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates people wonder what on earth it can be. No doubt any one of the dozen or more producers, co-producers, associate producers and executive producers could have explained why they put up some money or steered some towards the real creators, in this case writer/director Annemarie Jacir and listed producer Ossama Bawardi. But I digress…

Wajib, also known on the posters at least, as The Wedding Invitation may well be the film of the year thus far though I cant recall what else I might have nominated for that honour except maybe Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult.

Wajid’s  simplicity is beguiling for starters. We pick up the action as a crotchety father and his son start a day by getting into a car. No other explanation offered. We learn they will be personally delivering invitations to attend their daughter/sister’s wedding. Such is the custom in Nazareth, a heavily Arab part of Israel but where the Arab community has a large Christian minority. Much is made of ‘Christmas’, especially the question of whether the son, who has just flown in from his home in Italy, will stay after the wedding the week before or return home to be with his longterm partner.

Slowly, the stories of the father and the son, the father and his divorced wife, the father and his daughter, the father and his friends and acquaintances and the father and his relationship with the only Jew he comes into daily contact with, unravel before us. Mostly this occurs in near-whispered conversations that take place in the car as the two travel round Nazareth over the course of a day. 

In the background are troubles big and small – the presence of Israeli military, the occasional roadblock, an appearance by someone not till then invited to the nuptials, a detour to the wedding dress shop, some scattered moments when the car radio broadcasts a popular singer, or news of the petty corruption that has got Netanyahu and his appalling wife into trouble with the law, or a rendition of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale… all inconsequential singly but adding up to a mighty portrait of a relationship and a city and its politics. Importantly it’s about the lies that people tell about families and their ambitions and unrequited hopes.

The film has a magnificently quiet ending. I’m tempted to report about the father’s line about his wife but see it for yourself. It's whispered but truly terrible. That quietness is its feature element and it makes for something unique. With this film and The Insult the modern Arab cinema has delivered the two certified art house hits of the year. 

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