Monday 6 March 2023

Mubi Monday: Wajib (2017)

This tale of a father and son reconnecting, and disagreeing, as they travel around Nazareth, delivering wedding invites by hand to friends and family (as is tradition), is an interesting spin on very familiar material. It’s basically a road movie, but one with much more substance constantly running underneath the main narrative strand.

Mohammad Bakri and Saleh Bakri are the real father and son playing the onscreen father and son here. Saleh plays Shadi, a young man who has spent a fair amount of time away from his hometown. He has a slightly different look and vibe, complete with arguably cooler wardrobe choices and a manbun atop his head, but his anger at the situation in his homeland remains the same, especially when it comes to people he thinks have been convinced to spy and inform on their neighbours. Mohammad is the father, Abu-Shadi, and he may share some of his son’s concerns, maybe, but he knows how he needs to conduct his life in his hometown, being unable to get away and start over.

Directed by Annemarie Jacir, who also wrote the screenplay with Ossama Bawardi, the beauty of Wajib, in a way, is in the lack of major events. This is a film about Palestinian people that shows how they are defined by their homeland, yet also keeps showing how they are much more than that. Their conversations, arguments, and fears are tainted by where they live, but their everyday life is often the same as everyday life for all of us. On the surface.

Both of the Bakris are very good in the lead roles, carrying the film with great screen presence and natural chemistry between them, proving what a good decision it was to cast a real father and son. I won’t name the other cast members, some get a few seconds while others get a minute or two, because, as good as everyone is, they are never the real focus of the scene. The focus is a father and son, both of whom are now in very different places, mentally, but both also striving to meet in a middle ground that they can both see, even if they don’t want to spend too much time there.

Unlikely to be a top viewing choice for anyone wanting a standard comedy drama, or a standard road movie (this is no John Hughes script, as much as I also like those for what they deliver), Wajib is a peek into the lives of people who are often portrayed in more extreme circumstances. It’s an important snapshot of normality, and normality, if done right, can be just as effective onscreen as the fantastical and cinematic. Wajib is a special film, and it becomes one by not striving to show anything traditionally defined as special.


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