A wajib, in laymen terms, is an Islamic duty to God, whereby participants earn their reward upon arrival in heaven. It is an act that has a multitude of interpretations and is often applied to small everyday activities. Abu has been tasked with distributing invitations to his daughter’s wedding, and he is joined by his son Shadi, who has returned to their city of Nazareth, having lived in Italy for several years. One-by-one the father and son personally deliver dozens of invitations to family and friends from across the city throughout the course of one day, and we – the audience – get to tag along for the ride.
The entire premise presents itself as an arduous prospect, and when considering the synopsis the film might hold little interest to some. There is no immediate hook and the thought of watching two men driving around an old city seems taxing. Add the “foreign language” factor to the mix and the film’s potential audience diminishes drastically. However, for those who enjoy dialogue-driven character films, Wajib is well worth the effort and should prove to be entirely fulfilling.
Real life father and son Mohammad Bakri and Saleh Bakri play Abu and Shadi, two generations with opposing ideals and views on the world around them. Mohammad has lived his entire life in Nazareth as a school teacher, raising two children after his wife left for America with another man. Saleh is a 40-year-old architect whose view of the world is modern and westernised. Both men love and respect one another, although they struggle to understand the other’s perspective. This personal conflict is the foundation for the narrative, which has both of them arriving at a series of emotional junctures. At one moment they share laughs over wardrobe choices, and in the next moment they’re arguing over the state of Palestine and the imposing threat of the Islamic State.
Wajib benefits from the viewer’s knowledge of the current political climate in the Middle East, and the weight of its message will resonate more amongst those with a basic understanding. Having said that, there is also value in whatever ignorance the audience might have. The film successfully normalises the Palestinian lifestyle and works hard to demystify the image projected by mainstream media. By presenting a regular, peaceful Middle Eastern society not unlike our own here in the Western world, the film makes clear the true detriment of extreme religious fundamentalism. It is a message that is delicately woven into an otherwise uplifting story of a family preparing for a special day.
Both Mohammed and Saleh deliver captivating performances that dominate the film’s entire 95-minute running time. With thoughtfully structured cinematography, director Annemarie Jacir positions the camera at a variety of angles to capture the genuine emotion of her actors’ faces. They cannot escape the invasive voyeurism placed upon them and when each character finds themselves triggered, the audience is treated to a wonderful acting masterclass.
Jacir also places much emphasis on the surrounding landscape, making a point of capturing all sides of Palestinian life. We are treated to beautiful ancient architectures, gorgeous horizons and unquestionable hospitality. And on the flip-side, we are shown the contrasting poverty of some areas, as well as the embedded fear of the Islamic State authority. Needless to say, Wajib is a fascinating window into a culture that is mostly unknown and misrepresented to the outside world. It is a strong character study and an impassioned ode to one of the oldest societies on the planet.
I was in awe of the performances and found myself educated by its depiction of Palestine. It was an important reminder that the world around us is better understood through regional arts than it is through a 24- hour news cycle. I found it to be an endearing and unassuming drama that was at times amusing and uplifting. With two impeccable lead performances and a rock-solid script, it is a film to catch at the cinema or hunt down upon its home entertainment release.
‘Wajib’ opens in limited theatrical release in Australia on October 11.