Locarno 2017: Annemarie Jacir’s Duty

“A prodigal son’s Palestinian homecoming is marked by family obligations, comforting white lies and concerted efforts at matchmaking in Wajib, a wryly-observed family drama from writer/director Annemarie Jacir,” begins Screen’s Alan Hunter. “Loosely inspired by events in her own family, Jacir’s film follows Shadi (Saleh Bakri) as he returns to Nazareth for the wedding of his sister Amal (Maria Zreik). Tradition dictates that he should accompany his schoolteacher father Abu Shadi (Mohammad Bakri) as they personally hand deliver wedding invitations to a large extended family, friends and anyone else considered an essential guest.”

“Like a neorealist film, Wajib (Duty) uses this narrative structure as an expedient to enter into the private space of homes and to develop a very precise social and human description,” writes Carlo Chatrian, artistic director of the Locarno Festival. “The resulting micro-stories prove an ideal tool for representing the reality of a country torn between flight and resistance, between acceptance of the status quo and rebellion.”

“Bethlehem-born, Saudi-raised, New York-educated Jacir made waves with her Cannes-bowing 2008 debut Salt of This Sea, and followed up with When I Saw You (2012), skillfully imagining a child's eye view of the 1967 Six-Day War,” notes Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “Shot in dunnish, dusty, digital shades by Antoine Heberle and clocking in at a trim 97 minutes, Wajib gives an unfussily illuminating snapshot of modern-day Nazareth, where a majority Arab population—most seen here are Christian—has found ways to get along under the fiddly, capricious restrictions of the Israeli state. It's a ‘small’ film which attempts to break no new ground either formally or content-wise, but works just fine within its chosen limitations as a solid dual showcase for Bakri pere and fils.

For John Bleasdale at CineVue, “it is the apparently apolitical normality of Wajib which paradoxically is its most powerful political message.”

“Jacir’s achievement is that these characters do not descend into caricature,” writes Joseph Owen at the Upcoming. “Abu Shadi’s conservatism and respect for tradition is balanced by a pragmatic, refreshing approach to others. . . . Shadi, conversely, is hot-headed and frustratingly obstinate. His politics of progressive nationalism have no pliability, no thoughtfulness. Yet, he is the character with whom we most sympathize, his ideas about architecture and aesthetics delivered pompously but nevertheless with intellectual ballast. The film wishes to show the reconciliation of distinct beliefs—these men love each other, know each other—and so we conclude on something crucial: the pleasure of giving respect.”

For Variety,John Hopewell talks with Jacir “about filmmaking as a duty, Arab women in the film industry, and her latest feature, screening in the festival’s international competition.”

Updates, 8/10: “Though visually characterless, and peppered with elements that feel less than fresh, Wajib has a well-written climax that makes it come alive,” writes Jay Weissberg in Variety.

“For the young architect who lives abroad with his partner (and whose father claims that he’s a doctor seeking a wife in Palestine, because ‘people won't understand’), the worldview and small diplomatic lies told by his elderly father, who smokes too much, completely embody the place he once fled,” writes Bénédicte Prot for Cineuropa. “But the journey that marks his return to his hometown allows him to get back in touch with the young man he once was before moving abroad, discovering that he is able to uncover some hidden truths, teaming up with Abu Shadi for the same reasons—which are, all things considered, quite touching.”

Update, 9/2: For 4:3, Jeremy Elphick talks with Jacir “about the responses to conflict each character embodies, making films about Palestinian identity, and how the country’s film scene has developed in recent years.”

Update, 9/3: Writing for Cinema Scope,Lorenzo Esposito suggests that the title “denotes the duty to accept each other, to keep identity alive in a city where Israel doesn’t recognize Palestinian citizens as Palestinians, and also the duty to criticize (as Jacir has publicly declared) the Palestinian leadership that seems to be more and more disconnected from the people than ever. Here the filmmaker’s duty is to look after and, at the same time, to be surprised by the very process of bringing to life a carefully scripted film which, in the end, comes out as not scripted at all, as in the moving last sequence where father and son finally rest on the family house’s balcony, smoking and drinking coffee together, looking at the city of Nazareth in front of them.”

Update, 9/16: “Jacir’s third feature, apparently inspired by witnessing her own husband and father-in-law’s pilgrimage, is beautifully nuanced, slyly political and frequently very funny,” writes Leigh Singer for Sight & Sound. “Grounded by the lived-in shorthand of real-life father and son stars Mohammad and Saleh Bakri, Jacir offers a generous, bittersweet portrait of pinpoint specificity and universal appeal; its head and heart still divided between the instinctive comfort of the ties that bind, and the urge, duty even, to break free of them.”

“The myth of the homeland, or perhaps the nostalgia for a homeland that may or may not exist, is something that occurs in all your films,” Kaleem Aftab suggests, talking to Jacir for Filmmaker. “Yeah, that’s true,” she replies. “Salt of this Sea you could say is about a third generation refugee who comes back. . . . When I Saw You is the mother and son who approach their situation differently. In Wajib, I was interested in Nazareth because it’s the biggest Palestinian town inside of Israel and it’s fully Palestinian: there are no Israelis who live in Nazareth—it’s not like Haifa, which is a mixed city. Nazareth is just Palestinians, and it’s a violent tense city with people living on top of each other. They are fighting for land and they’re not allowed to build outwards at all. It’s a ghetto. Nazareth is a big Palestinian ghetto in Israel, and I was interested in that community.

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