Wajib, the latest production by Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir, seamlessly incorporates the political intricacies of living under occupation into a deeply personal portrayal of Palestinian life.
Wajib, an Arabic word roughly translating to ‘that which is obligatory through tradition and culture’, is a father-son drama set in Nazareth, a Palestinian city under Israeli control. The film has a simple plot: a father and son with opposing views agree to deliver wedding invitations on behalf of their mutually-adored daughter/sister. Along the way, they explore each other’s beliefs, and points of tension, and ultimately come to more deeply understand and love each other. Contrary to similar dramas in the broken family film subgenre, à la Little Miss Sunshine, the aberrant reality of living in occupied territory is at the core of the film.
The film opens with Abu Shadi, played by Mohammad Bakri, picking up his son Shadi, played by Bakri’s real son Saleh Bakri, from the airport. From the opening scene, there is a playful tension between the protagonists. But as they make their way through Nazareth, a town portrayed by the exquisite cinematography of Antoine Heberle, tensions become clearer and clearer. We watch them make passive aggressive jabs, and sit through awkward silences.
Father and son are characterised as obstinate reflections of one another. Abu Shadi is deliberately ignorant of his son’s profession, choosing to present him as a doctor rather than as the architect that he is. Shadi’s insists that his father is rooted in the past and is afraid of making his own choices, instead allowing society to choose for him.
Father and son have many differences but, more than anything else, they are divided on how to resist the occupation. Shadi is arguably an idealist, calling for Palestinian liberation, who proudly states that his girlfriend Nada’s father was an ‘intellectual’ leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. As a single parent who has to provide for his family, Abu Shadi seeks to work within the Israeli controlled system rather than directly challenge it. The clash between the son’s hope and his father’s pragmatism reflects how personal relationships become extra complicated in a militarised and highly politicised context.
This pervading political tension ebbs and flows, and never quite dissipates throughout the film. The film culminates in a raw confrontation, as Shadi pleads Abu Shadi not to invite his Israeli superior Avi, growing angry as he accuses his father of being a coward for towing the Israeli line.
The background noise of the Israeli occupation is omnipresent. Whether presented through visuals, like sudden shots of Israeli military personnel and huge images of the Star of David, or integrated into the soundscape, through radio reports of embargos, the occupation is always there.
Wajib meshes the personal and the political, highlighting how the pervasiveness of the political adds complexity to the personal. Every aspect of the film is touched by Israeli control, from the price of wedding dresses, to the deep, fractious divide between father and son. However, it also highlights the necessity of understanding and overcoming, of unity in the face of adversity. And not only is it emotionally evocative—it is pretty damn funny.
Wajib is screening tonight, to open to the Palestinian Film Festival.