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Annemarie Jacir | Wajib

[…] In one sense, the story evolves horizontally like an urban road movie. The subjects of this part are a colourful bunch of characters or, better said, the whole city, Nazareth, with its problems, contradictions, social conventions and vitality. In another sense, the film develops vertically as a family drama, enriching itself more and more after every encounter that father and son have.

Filmexplorer could meet the Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir and discuss at length on her third feature film, «Wajib».

Many of us have read about Nazareth only in the New Testament; for some people maybe this city does not even exist, yet it is the largest Arab city in the State of Israel today. The Palestinian film Wajib takes us there through an effective narrative expedient.   

It’s not so difficult to find talented film directors at major film festivals. What is more difficult is to find extremely well-written films such as Wajib. Abu Shadi, a divorced father and a school teacher in his mid-sixties, and his son, an architect who has emigrated to Rome, have to personally hand-deliver the sister/daughter’s wedding invitations to each guest. This is what the Palestinian tradition requires. This is their wajib, their “social duty”, and thanks to this, the two characters meet many people in the city. This obligation forces father and son to spend days together, opening old wounds and fundamentally challenging their fragile relationship.  

In one sense, the story evolves horizontally like an urban road movie. The subjects of this part are a colourful bunch of characters or, better said, the whole city, Nazareth, with its problems, contradictions, social conventions and vitality. In another sense, the film develops vertically as a family drama, enriching itself more and more after every encounter that father and son have. 

Annemarie Jacir, director and screenplay writer of this film, succeeds with great ability to merge these two aspects of the story: the portrait of a city, which seeks to live its life normally in spite of the problems with the authorities of Israel, and the relationship between father and son. Moreover, the Palestinian filmmaker, in her third feature film, has been able to find the adequate balance between a dramatic tone and a comedic one, with naturalness, creating delightful and amusing dialogues. The director reveals the soul of Nazareth showing only a few pictures of the city and its landscape. The camera stays constantly close to the characters. The representation of the city is mirrored almost exclusively through the actions and the words of the two protagonists and of the encounters with the secondary characters. Representative of this is a scene which dramatises the accidental death of an Israeli dog and the two protagonists’ subsequent escape by car: this scene depicts the contradictions of Nazareth and the difficulties of achieving an ordinary life for the Palestinians on Israeli Territory.   

The 70th Locarno Festival was characterized by a focus on the representation of masculinity. Many films showed new aspects of masculinity and Wajib wasn’t outdone. The men are winning figures of this film. Abu Shadi, the father, is only fragile in appearance: he managed to bring up his children alone and won over the prejudiced members of his society. Both father and son, in spite of their difference, question themselves and succeed in finding a final reconciliation, putting aside their own pride. The two actors, Saleh und Mohammad Bakri, in real life also father and son, empathized with the director’s project and produced two highly relevant performances.

Text: Mattia Lento | Audio/Video: Manuela Ruggeri
First published: August 14, 2017

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