Wajib: A Palestinian film about real life in Palestine

Wajib: A gritty film about real life for real Palestinians
5 min read
12 October, 2017
Film review: Wajib tackles the complex relationship between a Palestinian father and son, divided by their completely different world experiences.
Wajib premieres in Ramallah on October 17 [Philistine Films]
Annemarie Jacir is extraordinarily outspoken for a Palestinian artist living in Israel.

"I say what I feel," she tells The New Arab. "I was denied entry to Palestine for five years, so OK, f*ck 'em, I don't care – I'll find a way around [exile]," she says. 

Jacir – the director of three major films which were entered for Oscar nominations – is in London for the UK premiere of her latest film Wajib [Duty].

A comedic drama, the story focuses on their relationship as they drive Abu Shadi's old Volvo - forcibly confronting the two men with the natural tensions that life in present-day Palestine can create.

Shadi, the son, played by Saleh Bakri, is an architect, living in Italy with his girlfriend out of wedlock. His father, Abu Shadi, played by Saleh's real-life father Mohammad Bakri, is a school tutor who has lived in Nazareth all his life.

As an educated member of Palestine's diaspora, Shadi has returned to Nazareth to help prepare for his sister Amal's [played by Maria Zreik] wedding. 

The two men have different world views and inevitably clash. The vast contrast comes to light as they drive around Nazareth to drop off wedding invitations in the run-up to Christmas. 

"I dig Shadi's politics," says Jacir.

"I think he is comfortable with his anger. He is frustrated. He sees a weakness in his father, he thinks his father is politically weak."

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The two men deliver wedding invitations all over Nazareth
[Philistine Films]
Shadi becomes visibly frustrated with the rubbish piling up ["at least we have a municipality," replies his father] and Israeli soldiers sitting in his restaurant ["they like it, it's good food"].

This dichotomy plays out on repeat, highlighting the fundamental difference between the two protagonists.

While Shadi chose to leave Palestine, his father decided to stay.

"Of course there are people who, like Abu Shadi, don't feel like they have other options but to stay, so they're not political," says Jacir.

"It's important to think about Abu Shadi and his generation – they lived under military occupation. They were silenced, it was illegal to talk about Palestine."

It's important to think about Abu Shadi and his generation – they lived under military occupation. They were silenced, it was illegal to talk about Palestine

Jacir explains that she did not make the film with any message in mind, either political or otherwise. Rather, the film explores the father-son relationship and how different world experiences have placed them at odds.

The two men hide various truths from one another. Shadi regularly chides his father for continuing to smoke, despite also secretly smoking himself, while Abu Shadi regularly makes up a number of convenient white lies to keep up appearances and save face.

"Both of them just want respect from the other person and to be accepted for who they are," Jacir explains.

In one of the closing scenes of the film, this political difference between the father and son finally comes to a head.

Shadi is angry at his father for inviting an Israeli who was responsible for getting him in trouble as a young man. Abu Shadi becomes frustrated that his own son can't understand why he is forced to invite his boss to the wedding.

The two men become exasperated with the other while also stubbornly holding on to their own respective viewpoints – a familiar experience for many of us.

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Maria Zreik plays Shadi's sister, Amal [Philistine films]

It is this very universal human weakness that helps the audience become so enthralled in the characters themselves.

The layers of drama that build up throughout the film are ones that almost every family can relate to, whether Palestinian or not.

But Jacir says she paid extra attention to making the film with a Palestinian audience in mind, as "only Palestinians will understand the details".

"Of course as an artist, you hope it's more universal than that," the director adds. "I would hope that anyone who knows anything about Palestine would still watch the film."

One of the more beautiful aspects of the film is the detail and focus given to otherwise overlooked parts of everyday life... All of these experiences show the gritty reality of living in Nazareth

Some Palestinian critics have called the film out for its explicit use of Arabic swearing – still a taboo topic for many, but Jacir disagrees with this criticism: "This is just how people talk, this is everyday language," she says.

One of the more beautiful aspects of the film is the detail and focus given to otherwise overlooked parts of everyday life.

The Ka'ak seller, the overflowing bins, the fight in a traffic jam – all of these experiences show the gritty reality of living in Nazareth.

Real life is not pretty for many Palestinians. There is an ugliness to most people's every day reality that requires equal parts of grit, humour and a sense of duty to complete a task, no matter what. Jacir addresses all three in Wajib.

"I'm interested in the Palestinian community that lives inside Palestine, their identity crisis and struggles to find a way through life," said Jacir.

"They're the minority in the Palestinian population – 75 percent of our population became refugees, these are the guys who did not. They never left. It's a crazy community."

Today, it is still illegal to discuss Palestinian history in school. Criticism of the Israeli state on social media can land you in prison. Crime, violence and unemployment are all on the rise. Yet despite all of these difficulties, real life characters like Abu Shadi continue with their lives and find ways to get by.

No matter the difficulty, people usually find ways to survive as a means of resistance. Wajib is not just a film about a father and son, it is so much more than that. It is a celebration of that very resistance.

Robert Cusack is a staff writer at The New Arab. 
Follow him on Twitter: @rob_cusack