Film Review: ‘Wajib’ — a father and son bond on a road trip

A still from the film 'Wajib.' (Supplied)
Updated 11 February 2019

Film Review: ‘Wajib’ — a father and son bond on a road trip

  • The latest drama from Palestinian writer-director Annemarie Jacir “Wajib,” is set over the course of a single day and shows the relationship between father and son
  • Played by real-life father and son Mohammed and Saleh Bakri, the two characters — Abu and Shadi — drive around Nazareth delivering wedding invitations

CHENNAI: As many films have illustrated, male-female relationships are difficult. But those between fathers and sons can be equally problematic. Two closely linked men can be extremely touchy about their independence. We have seen this, too, in films, and the latest drama from Palestinian writer-director Annemarie Jacir (“Salt of This Sea,” “When I Saw You”), “Wajib,” is a fascinating study, set over the course of a single day, of how a father and his son develop a camaraderie.

Played by real-life father and son Mohammed and Saleh Bakri, the two characters — Abu and Shadi — drive around Nazareth on a winter’s day delivering invitations to the wedding of Abu’s daughter, Amal (Maria Zreik). (Palestinian custom requires that the father and son personally visit each relative and friend to deliver the cards.) As they travel in a ramshackle Volvo, the two men have time to bicker and provoke each other. There is also subtle manipulation from both.

What Jacir does with a flourish is to fill her plot with layers, and as the car trundles along, revelations pop out. We are let into one secret of how retired schoolteacher Abu had to make compromises to keep his position in an Israeli-run school. As a teenager, Shadi embraced more radical politics and saw his father as a sell-out.

Cut to the present, and we learn that Shadi’s girlfriend back in Italy, where he currently works as an architect, has a father who is known to be a Palestinian activist and intellectual — “a PLO leader,” according to the conservative Abu, who sees such people as dangerous terrorists, while Shadi is proud of this association.

But the anger and hurt between the father and son go beyond political -isms.

Jacir’s 96-minute movie is not just all work and no play. The tension is often lightened with a touch of the comic. The writing is tight and precise; a little too antiseptic perhaps, but the multitude of characters from a variety of backgrounds — both Muslim and Christian — and their neatly observed mannerisms give the narrative great energy. The style is judicious and simple, and the often-sparse frames, in which Abu and Shadi are alone reflect a relationship that is fighting to emerge from years of silence and pain. Paced like a road movie, “Wajib” really comes alive at the climax. Not to be missed.

“Wajib” is showing at Cinema Akil in Dubai from Feb. 22 – 28.


Stars of the 'The Kitchen' movie talk to Arab News

“The Kitchen,” stars Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish and Domhnall Gleeson. (Supplied)
Updated 22 August 2019

Stars of the 'The Kitchen' movie talk to Arab News

DUBAI: “The Kitchen,” starring Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish and Domhnall Gleeson, is an ode to the ever-popular gangster movie, but also a reimagining. Three women who can’t pay the bills after their mobster husbands go to prison decide to take over the organization themselves — becoming violent criminals in the process. Gone is the Don, in his place are the Donnas.

“I love mobster movies, they’re some of my favorite movies, but I think I always watched them and thought, ‘Where am I in that story? Where am I represented?’ I never am. The opportunity to put those two things together — a real authentic, gritty mob story that has interesting, flawed, human women at the center of it felt like an incredible opportunity,” writer/director Andrea Berloff tells Arab News.

Andrea Berloff at the premier of "The Kitchen" in Hollywood. (AFP)

In casting, Berloff went against type — McCarthy and Haddish are best-known for comedic roles, and Gleeson’s roles in “Star Wars” and the Oscar-nominated “Brooklyn” suggested anything but a gangster.

“If I’d read the script I wouldn’t have thought of me for the role, so I was thrilled that Andrea for some reason thought that I could do a good job. The good ones are a surprise to you as opposed to something you track down — or that’s the way it’s been for me so far. I never thought I’d really want to play a killer in a mob movie. When this script came along, that’s what I found a bit scary and interesting,” says Gleeson.

Domhnall Gleeson at the premier of "The Kitchen" in Hollywood. (AFP)

Like Berloff, Moss has always loved the genre — especially the women in legendary projects such as “The Godfather” and “The Sopranos.” While the women of “The Kitchen” are different in many ways from those groundbreaking characters, they carry on their spirit.

“It’s something that we’ve seen in various mobster projects. With Diane Keaton and Edie Falco, and these incredible portrayals, I always find them the most interesting parts of those projects — to see the effect that that lifestyle has on women is really interesting,” Moss tells Arab News.

Elisabeth Moss loved the genre of the movie. (AFP)

McCarthy wasn’t as focused on the history of women in crime fiction as her co-star. Instead, the character and the script were rich enough that she was able to link it to her own life quite easily.

“I didn’t reference other movies,” she says. “For me, when a script it that good, and that complete, and that fully realized, I try to delve into the character itself. I thought about how I related as a mother of two, and what does that mean when you’re just trying to survive and try to take care of your kids. I don’t look to other movies as a guide — I’m a big movie fan, but I prepare a little more solo.”

Tiffany Haddish at the premier of "The Kitchen" in Hollywood. (AFP)

“I’m the same way,” says Haddish.

“It just seemed easy. It’s that great thing. Especially with Andrea running the ship, we all saw the same movie, which was really great, and we all naturally get along,” says McCarthy.

 Melissa McCarthy at the premier of "The Kitchen" in Hollywood. (AFP)

This is Berloff’s debut as a director (she was nominated for an Oscar for writing the 2016 hit “Straight Outta Compton”) and she hadn’t originally planned on helming the movie herself. But she found she felt so passionate about the story that she wanted to oversee the whole project.

“There are times when I write a script and I’m happy to hand it off to someone else and let them run with it, but in this case I felt like I had so much more to say about these characters, and this world, and these themes,” she explains. “I went in to pitch as a director and started saying to them, ‘Here’s what’s not in the script that you don’t know.’”