Nine years ago I interviewed Palestinian film director Annemarie Jacir for her film Salt of this Sea when it premiered at the OSIAN film festival in Delhi. This year at Toronto’s TIFF, I was lucky to meet her again and watch her latest film Wajib. As with all her scripts, Wajib bleeds with generosity, tensions old and familiar scoping the personal, socioeconomic and geopolitical narratives shaping Palestine.
Wajib must be sought for the inspiration, integrity, warmth and ingenuity that visit this director’s usual themes of identity, forced migration, family life, heartbreak, exile and homecoming. Her stories are a vivid reimagining of reality. Everyday life thrums with complex brilliance, history woven with present, reality at odds with ideals. She scores most for her heart-wrenching portraits of a colonized people, habituated to old mindsets, fears and suppressed voices even in a rapidly changing (globalizing, urbanizing), intergenerational world, where core values, closed mindsets, fears and community ideals are at loggerheads with change.
This film’s genesis took root in the old Palestinian family tradition of duty/honour (Wajib) where male members of a family deliver wedding invites door-to-door, a custom Annemarie didn’t observe in her own family from Bethlehem, but definitely witnessed in families living in the north of Palestine. She tagged along with a dad-and-son duo she knew during their own quest for Wajib as they dealt honour/obligation through wedding invites on a road trip, giving her plenty of inspiration for this film.
Wajib is about Palestinians living in Israel in fear and dereliction but never without the richness of their traditions, nor without hope. A father and son are driving down the roads of Nazareth (and the actors are really father and son too besides being professional actors) navigating serpentine traffic, armed patrol-cars, militia, barbed wire, and a funeral procession, to reach remote neighbourhoods, hand-delivering invites to kith and kin, friends and foes.
Discussions, debates, jokes and disagreements ensue, (overtly and subtly) as father and son differ in outlook, identity, ambition and reality. A broken old man seeking his promotion as a headmaster, versus a slick young liberal expat who enjoys the fineness of Italian wines and living in with his liberal girlfriend whose father happens to be a rich idealist from the PLO. The father smirks at his son’s choices, political and personal: he mocks his pink shirt and coloured pants, but remarks with sarcasm that of course it matches his “hairdo” (a man bun tied at the top). The son chides his father for smoking, for not finding second love post his divorce, for his terrible choice of a wedding singer, and for acquiescing ever so often to the bullying Israeli gatekeepers of culture who had robbed them of the Palestinian way of living, denying them culture and history.
And then there’s love, lovers and lechery in delightful dozes from a powerful crew. Sibling love, society gossip, and the wildfire of diaspora satirize the ignominies of the underdog and rekindle the warmth in kinship. What does it mean to be a Palestinian living in Israel or a “self-made” expat who is constantly scowled at for taking the “easy way” out rather than staying back to brave the plight of his countrymen? Strong and diverse female characters shine a light on society’s inequities, even in a film that’s centred on a father and son’s bonding.
Crackling with wit and humour, Annemarie pens a story that is taut and expansive. Racy yet tender, tumultuous yet hopeful, sad yet comical. Her intelligence inspires an elevated art form (the “dramedy”), a mosaic of crazy caricatures and rich tapestries: I can’t wait to see Annemarie win an Oscar one day.