Wajib perfectly captures uneasy relationship
IF YOU’VE ever stood on the sidelines and watched your parents in frustration as they try to figure out how to pay for parking, groaning at why such a simple task could be so onerous, that feeling starts to capture the inherent tension between parents and their adult children.
It’s that dynamic where the children think they’ve seen more of the world, read all the news and, therefore, know more about what’s happening than their dotty folks, forgetting that their parents have been exactly where they are.
And those parents might even have some wisdom, a perspective that’s still valuable.
In Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir’s (Salt of this Sea) excellent dramedy film Wajib, it’s the relationship between father and son Abu (Mohammad Bakri) and Shadi (Saleh Bakri) that’s tested over the course of a day delivering wedding invitations across Nazareth — 340 of them.
Shadi lives in Italy and returned to Israel for his sister’s wedding. As is tradition in Nazareth, the invitations to such a joyous affair must be hand-delivered.
So Shadi joins his father for the day, schlepping around town in their little car, walking up and down stairs and having to stay for tea with every great-aunt, twice removed, or old family friend.
A lot of these interactions are ripe for comedy — misunderstandings about where Shadi’s been (You’re in America? No, Italy. You’re a doctor, right? No, an architect), or unexpected guests.
When Shadi inquires as to where they’re going next, he’s incensed to find out it’s to Ronnie Avi, a man Abu, a teacher, works with at his school.
Avi, the Palestinian Shadi says, is an Israeli “spy” who reports on what the Arabs are doing to the ministry. He’s also convinced Avi is the reason he was interrogated by the Israeli government over his schoolboy cinema club (“You only watched political films! It was inciting!”). Shadi won’t have Avi at his sister’s wedding.
Abu implores with his son, that Avi isn’t who Shadi thinks he is, and that inviting him to the wedding is how “things are done”.
Nazareth, in northern Israel, has a predominantly Muslim population and coursing through Jacir’s film is the uneasy status of Arabs in Israel. Shadi represents one side — he’s angry by what he sees as the humiliation of his people being treated as second class — but it’s much easier to be indignant when you don’t have to live it full-time.
Abu, on the other hand, does. He’s more pragmatic, doesn’t want to make waves, likes the same things he’s liked for 40 years and does things the same way. While Wajib is a political film, it’s not the primary focus.
The push and pull between a father and son is a universally relatable relationship and Jacir builds a great rhythm so it never feels like the movie is judging one person over the other.
Who hasn’t shot their parent a patronising look or given them a sideways glance when you’ve thought you known better. Or felt the sting of a parent’s subtle disapproval barely hidden in a throwaway remark?
Jacir’s insight into inter-generation tension is what makes Wajib so compelling and watchable, while never losing touch of the specificity of this particular father and son.
That Abu and Shadi are played by a real-life father and son makes it all the more authentic and lived in — the chemistry is probably infused with decades of the same petty disagreements.
The emotionally exhausting and frustrating day leads to a tense climax and then a graceful denouement, one that won’t fail to resonate. Because in the end, family is family, no matter what.
Wajib: The Wedding Invitation is in cinemas now.