Wajib (2017)

3.5 stars

A Palestinian father-son road trip through Nazareth is handled with nuance and grace despite thorny issues of family and nationalism in this understated offering.

Dir. Annemarie Jacir
2017 | Palestine | Drama | 96 mins | Arabic
NC16 (passed clean) for some coarse language

Cast: Mohammad Bakri, Saleh Bakri, Tarik Kopty
Plot: A father and his estranged son must come together to hand-deliver his daughter’s wedding invitations to each guest as per local Palestinian custom.
Awards: Won Special Prize – Best Film & ISPEC Cinema Award, & Don Quixote Award (Locarno)
International Sales: Pyramide International

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse


Review #1,658

(Reviewed at the Middle East Film Festival ’19)

Spoilers: No

It is not very often that you see a film from Palestine, but Wajib is an underrated gem, and writer-director Annemarie Jacir’s third feature to date, after Salt of This Sea (2008), which competed for the Camera d’Or at Cannes, and When I Saw You (2012), which won the Netpac Award at Berlin.  Her latest comes with high honours as well, nabbing several awards at Locarno.

It centers on an old, divorced father on a car trip to deliver handmade wedding invitation cards (his daughter is getting married) to relatives and friends in Nazareth.  Alongside is his adult son, who has driving duties.  He is temporarily back from Italy, where he works (happily) as an architect. Although mildly glad to be in each other’s company after being distant for years, both find themselves getting increasingly agitable as the journey continues.

Palestine’s submission to the 2018 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

Their problematic family history resurfaces, their personal beliefs are set against one another, and with Jacir’s subtle insertions of the sociopolitical milieu through ‘sightings’ of armed Jewish soldiers, as well as radio broadcasting about laws and policies, we get a ‘road trip’-type picture that focuses primarily on the dynamics between father and son—and by extension, conservatism and liberalism respectively—whilst at the same time letting audiences experience the sights and sounds of its locales.

Jacir’s work treats politics not as a sidebar but integral to the personal experiences of the family, but it never overshadows the personal.  Handled with nuance and grace, her treatment eschews provocation for a more genteel take on thorny issues regarding family and nationalism.  It doesn’t mean the film is less powerful; rather Wajib asks of us to consider issues not as black-and-white but with ambiguity.

That things are what they are because they are, and that no one should have a monopoly in deciding what one should do, only that the mantra applies: you reap what you sow.  Thus, through the familiar tropes of the father-son dynamic and the ‘road trip’, Wajib brings about a quiet, sometimes emotional, introspection from the quite vivid performances of Mohammad Bakri and Saleh Bakri, who are remarkably real-life father and son.

Grade: B+



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