Palestinian writer/director Annemarie Jacir’s latest is a sometimes dryly funny character drama which seems to be just about a slightly splintered family in the build-up to a wedding – but, of course, there’s so much more going on here.
Almost a ‘Road Movie’, as a father and son drive around all day hand-delivering invitations (‘wajib’ refers to this custom, not the invitations), it features understated performances, a nice line in wry humour and, here and there, subtle but seriously pointed religious and political themes.
The getting-on parent and grown-up kid are Abu Shadi (Mohammad Bakri) and Shadi (Saleh Bakri, a Jacir regular), and the fact that the players are indeed a father and son adds an ease (and edge) to the proceedings. They begin by passing invitations to close-by family friends – a lonely senior gent, a long-grieving widow – and there’s deceptive light-heartedness as we establish that the curiously hipster-looking Shadi has studied architecture and now works in Italy, and that he is worried that his sister Amal (Maria Zreik) isn’t marrying for love (and imagine that!). When they stop off for refreshment, however, men with guns turn up and eye them sternly, and Shadi is quietly outraged.
The episodic narrative then follows them as they partake of endless cups of tea, cakes, early-in-the-day nips of liqueur and more, and there’s frequently a celebratory mood amongst the would-be guests, as Christmas is coming and Nazareth is full of decorated trees and gaudy paraphernalia. And father and son keep squabbling: Shadi is annoyed that Dad tries matchmaking when his partner is waiting for him back in Italy; he needles his father about smoking after a heart attack; and, of course, petty resentments and grudges start emerging.
Naturally it’s what they don’t say that’s most important, with family history (the mother ran off to America years ago and scandalised everyone) intersecting with the history of the region, as Shadi rages about “colonisers” and doubts that his respected teacher Dad will ever be allowed to tell his students the real story of his people.
Jacir has previously stated that “family makes you crazy”, and that’s certainly true here, but there are lovely moments nonetheless, as Shadi senior and Shadi junior share a nostalgic laugh as Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale plays on the car radio. But that old pain and anger is never far away, and Dad agonises about how all the young people are leaving the town and soon there will be no one left, which, as Jacir sees it, looks like it might well be right.
But, then again, why wouldn’t they all want to get the Hell out?