BFI LFF: Wajib (2017)

Wajib translates as ‘duty’ and Annemarie Jacir’s film focuses on a beautifully observed father-son relationship as they take a road trip around Nazareth amid the confines of being an Arab in Israel.

Heavy Duty

by Alexa Dalby

Wajib

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Shadi (Saleh Bakri) returns to Nazareth from Italy, where he now lives, to help with preparations for the imminent wedding of his sister Amal (Maria Zriek). By tradition, wedding invitations must be delivered by hand to all the people who must be invited. Shadi and his divorced father Abu Shadi (Mohammad Bakri), a teacher, drive around the city calling on friends, neighbours and acquaintances of the family.

Ironically, it’s Christmas in Nazareth and Christian homes are flamboyantly – even garishly – decorated and Abu Shadi’s phone’s comical ring tone is Jingle Bells. It’s not the usual wedding season, whihc would be summer, but it’s being held then to accommodate Abu Shadi’s estranged wife and her new husband. As the father and son (a real-life father-and-son duo) drive round the city together through the traffic jams in the biblically narrow streets, they bicker and disagree, succumb to the enforced hospitality of meals and coffees every time they stop and suffer mishaps such as the misprinting of the wedding invitations.

What we see is a cross-section of the life of Palestinians in an Israeli society, their shared culture that binds them together and the daily accommodations they have to make in order to be tolerated by the governing Israelis. Despite the respect the younger man has for his father, the simmering, unspoken chafing between the two men finally breaks out. The older man, Abu Shadi, has had to negotiate his way diplomatically and make the compromises necessary to survive as an Arab in Israeli society. Shadi represents the young diaspora, Europeanised in hairstyle and dress, who are insulated from an understanding of the problems they left behind. Abu Shadi lives there, he would never leave: he has to deal with the daily slights, but is it living? And now, like his son, all the young people are leaving.

Writer and director Annemarie Jacir (Salt of This Sea, When I Saw You) has made a compelling, beautifully observed, very human film that, despite the desperation of its setting, ends up being quietly life-affirming. It was Palestine’s 2017 foreign language submission to the Oscars.

Wajib screens on 9 and 11 October 2017 in the 61st BFI London Film Festival.

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