Wajib – The Wedding Invitation is a modest, low-budget work that doesn’t push any boundaries, but it’s superbly written, directed and acted, and as close to perfect as domestic dramas get.
Like the brilliant Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi (The Separation, The Salesman), Palestinian writer-director Annemarie Jacir has that Middle-Eastern cinematic gift for fashioning absorbing realist drama from the minutiae of everyday life. Wajib – The Wedding Invitation, her third feature film, does not have the emotional intensity of Fahardi’s grand-scale domestic tragedies. It’s more modest in scope and her tone is lighter, more humorous. But her dialogue is every bit as masterly in approaching the profound through the apparently mundane, her characters just as convincing.
Central to Wajib is the testy relationship between 60-something Nazarene schoolteacher Abu Shadi (Mohammad Bakri) and his architect son Shadi (Saleh Bakri, Mohammed’s actual son). For years, Shadi has been living in Italy with his Palestinian partner, and has grown apart from his father. He’s returned to Nazareth for the wedding of his sister Amri (Maria Zreik). In accordance with local tradition, the wedding invitations must be delivered in person (wajib = duty or obligation). It’s quite a task, so Shadi joins his father in his trusty old Volvo and off they go.
Their mission is an efficient and tremendously effective dramatic device that structures and drives the narrative and serves multiple other dramatic functions.
It affords us a composite picture of life in suburban Nazareth, and a keyhole look at the culture, particularly that of the Christian Arab community of which Abu Shadi and Shadi are part. The gracious hospitality of the wedding invitees is showcased as they warmly welcome their visitors, offer them food and beverages and exchange domestic news and local gossip.
En route between destinations, we get a sense of the town and the everyday lives of its people. At one point tempers flare during a traffic jam and there is a minor road rage incident. There are snippets of political news on the car radio, including an update on a senior Israeli government corruption case, and an announcement that buses will no longer display destinations in Arabic. It speaks volumes that Abu Shadi and Shadi do not even react.
The wajib offers abundant characterisation opportunities, throwing father and son together in claustrophobic proximity. The tensions between them are teased out as they exchange apparently casual conversation in the car that tells us ever more about them and their relationship.
Abu Shadi is a traditionalist for whom Nazareth is home, whereas Shadi, “Europeanised” right down to his hipster appearance, struggles to tolerate his subjugation as an Arab under Israeli government control (there is an uncomfortable moment when they take time off in a café and a pair of Israeli soldiers at an adjacent table notice him glaring at them).
The contrast between father and son is never sharper than when Shadi breaks the news that his mother might not be able to attend the wedding due to her spouse’s illness. Years before, she had left the family to make a new life with a new man in America, and Abu Shadi is still embittered. He declares angrily that she deserted the family. Shadi responds that she made a courageous move in quest of something that had been lacking in her life.
Jacir never takes sides in this age-old clash of values between conservative and progressive, between the traditional and the modern. There is no right or wrong here, only equally valid individual truths.
However, neither father nor son can accept the other’s views, culminating in a ding-dong roadside row that is the dramatic peak of the movie. The resolution, which comes in the closing frames, is exquisitely managed and one of several deeply affecting moments that reveals the underlying bedrock of love that unites the family, whatever their differences.
Wajib is a modest, low-budget work that doesn’t push any boundaries, but it’s superbly written, directed and acted, and as close to perfect as any domestic drama I’ve seen. I simply can’t fault it.
Movie Website: http://potentialfilms.com/contemporary-movies/wajib/
Australian release date: Wajib – The Wedding Invitation in Perth at Luna Leederville from November 15, 2018
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