Wedding ritual offers invitation to dilemmas of Arabs in Israel

M, 98 minutes


A Palestinian man and his son set out to deliver more than 300 wedding invitations by hand to friends and relatives.

On this simple premise, Palestinian writer-director Annemarie Jacir has constructed a rueful and, at times, savage comedy about the daily dilemmas of Arabs living in Israel.

In her community, it’s the custom for men in the family to take care of this pre-wedding ritual. And one day, Jacir – whose last two features were Oscar finalists – went along for the ride with her future brother-in-law and his father. The result was this film.

Real-life father and son: Mohammad Bakri (left) and Saleh Bakri play Abu Shadi and Shadi in Wajib.

Real-life father and son: Mohammad Bakri (left) and Saleh Bakri play Abu Shadi and Shadi in Wajib.

Abu Shadi and his son, Shadi – played by Mohammed and Saleh Bakri, father and son in real life – live in Nazareth, which has a special place in the Israeli state.

Because of a large concentration of Arab Christians, the city’s Palestinians were allowed to stay on after the Israeli takeover in 1948. Nonetheless, the city has a Muslim majority and its status as Israel’s unofficial Arab capital means the Palestinian nationalist spirit is strong.

Abu has been dealing with these delicate political realities all his life. His son, however, has been living in Italy for years and although Abu still cherishes the hope he’ll eventually make Nazareth his home again, Shadi has no such intentions.

So the two banter and bicker as they criss-cross the city streets in Abu’s beloved old Volvo, stopping from time to time to consume cakes and cups of tea in houses and apartments of varying size and levels of comfort.

At each of these stops, Shadi is asked politely if he has found a bride yet and before he can reply, his father answers for him. No, he is still to find the right girl, he says, even though he knows Shadi has a girlfriend in Rome.

Points of difference arise at every corner. Shadi points with disgust at the rubbish in the streets, his father shrugs and counters with a criticism of his son’s red trousers and pink shirt.

He also persists in calling Shadi’s girlfriend by the wrong name and when Shadi makes the mistake of referring to his girlfriend's father as an intellectual, Abu really fires up.

As a member of the PLO living abroad, the man can afford to be an intellectual, he says, derision colouring every syllable.

Wajib director Annemarie Jacir.

Wajib director Annemarie Jacir.

Shadi’s own temper is set ablaze when they go to their favourite cafe for falafel and find a couple of Israeli soldiers sitting at the next table. He turns to glare at them, hinting for the first time at his reason for leaving Nazareth. It will later emerge he was in danger of being arrested as a political activist.

These vignettes make it sound as if father and son are on a mutual guilt trip, perpetually at odds with one another, yet there’s a discernible vein of respect and affection running between them, along with a shared gossipy interest in the people they’re meeting along the way. And on one political point, they agree totally.

Spotting a priest who has backed an Israeli call to have Palestinian Christians join the Israeli army, they gleefully slow the car so that Shadi can give him the finger.

Above all, they both want Amal (Maria Zriek) to have a happy day. She’s the family peacemaker and there’s a beautifully balanced scene around the kitchen table as they discover the wrong date has been printed on the invitations.

An inevitable bout of hand-wringing follows. Then they all settle down companionably to write the corrections by hand.

The tensions between father and son come to a head in a quarrel about one of the potential wedding guests, a Jewish Israeli. Abu insists he be invited while Shadi boils with anger at the thought that the idea should even be considered.

And as they wrangle over it, the argument expands to take in grudges and compromises spanning decades of Palestinian history.

But it’s cathartic. By the time it’s done, they’ve proved to themselves – and to us – that the bond between them is more durable than they ever imagined.

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