WAJIB   (THE WEDDING INVITATION),  Palestine. Starring Mohammed Bakri, Saleh Bakri. Directed by Annemarie Jacir. 96 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language.)

Well, this is one way to spend a day – a father and son driving around Nazareth delivering invitations to a wedding to family, friends, acquaintances.

While there are some comically cheerful sequences, the underlying themes of Wajib are very serious.

The setting is very important. The focus is on a family living in Nazareth, an Arab city in Israel. For those who have a gospel-image of Nazareth, and have never been there, it might be quite a surprise to see it as a contemporary city, the streets and the constant traffic, the range of buildings, the hills (and the number of houses with many images of Mary who, after all, came from there).

The film is a serious reminder of the difficulties for Arabs living in Nazareth – which are less considerable than for the who live in the occupied territories. Nevertheless, the point is made that there are limitations on the freedoms of the Arabs, the schools and staff as well as curricula are kept under surveillance by officials, some issues prohibited, that some occupations are not open to Arabs, the instance mentioned here being pilots. And, while many aspects of life are comfortable enough, the Arabs feel that they are second-class citizens.

The drama highlighting these perspectives involves father and son. The daughter and sister is about to be married, preparations are underway, there is even a side visit to the dress shop where the young woman is trying out a variety of dresses. The father has been a teacher in a local school and has ambitions to be promoted to headmaster. The son, on the other hand, had something of a controversial background when he was growing up, strong political stances through a cinema club, the father feeling that it was best for his son to move out of Israel. The son now lives in Italy, works as an architect, lives with his companion whose father is a former PLO member. The son has no desire to come back to live in Israel.

In fact, the criticisms come through the dialogue given to the son. There is a powerful sequence of verbal and emotional clashes, especially towards the end when both men get out of their car and there is a strong confrontation, especially on the occasion of the father wanting to invite the Jewish representative whom he sees as his friend but In the son denounces as a spy, over the years reporting activities to the Israeli authorities, controlling education.

Along the way, as father and son drive around the city side delivering the invitations, there are quite a number of pleasing vignettes, visits to family homes, discussions about family matters, some socialising, the son having a beer with an old friend who is satisfied living in Nazareth…

The action takes place only over the daylight hours of one day so it is really a drama of raising the issues – but, with a somewhat gentle ending, not entirely a resolution, but some hope, if not for Nazareth, for the father and son and their relationship.

Potential Films                                                    Released October 11th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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