Thursday 21 September 2017

Charming comedy tackles thorny issues

Paul Whitington

The source

(Club, IFI, 135 minutes )

Director: Radu Mihaileanu Stars: Leila Bekhti, Hafsia Herzi, Biyouna, Zinedine Soualem

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This charming comic drama from Radu Mihaileanu is set in the present day in an unnamed country on the Arabian Peninsula, and uses a winningly absurd premise to highlight some thorny social issues in the Muslim world.

In a small village that's endured years of extended drought, a spring several kilometres away is the only source of water.

And while the men sit around on their fat asses drinking tea, it's the women who toil up and down the rocky mountain path carrying heavy pails.

This tradition has gone on for centuries, but after a young wife called Leila (Leila Bekhti) watches her friend lose a baby on her way to the source, she decides the madness has to stop.

But Leila is a blow-in, a girl from the other end of the country who is married to the local teacher, Sami (Saleh Bakri).

On her own she won't be taken seriously, but when a fearsome older woman called 'Mother Rifle' (Biyouna) takes Leila's side, they concoct a radical plan.

Until the men agree to start carrying water, the women will withdraw the thing their husbands value most -- sex.

A tense standoff endues, and some of the more appalling husbands resort to violence and worse, but Leila and Mother Rifle will not be moved, and the viability of the community becomes ever more uncertain.

Writer/director Mihaileanu handles his story well, and somehow makes an absurd situation believable. In this he's helped by a wonderful cast that includes younger French/Algerian actresses like Hafsia Herzi, Sabrina Ouazani and the luminous Bekhti.

But it's the magnificently gritty Biyouna who steals that show, playing a no-nonsense rock of sense who'll stand up to anyone, even God and the Imam.

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