Friday, 15 June 2012

THE SOURCE is set in a small village somewhere between North Africa and the Middle East.
For as long as anyone can remember, the women of the community have fetched water from a mountaintop spring in the blazing sun.
Leila, a young new bride, urges the other women to go on love strike: no more sex until the men run water to the village.

Film Review – The Source
Set in a fictional North African mountain village The Source follows the plight of a group of women who go on a love strike in protest at the perilous daily journey they are forced to take to fetch water for their community. After a series of accidents on their route newcomer Leila (Le├»la Bekhti) calls on the women in the village to stand up and demand change, to force the men to install a pipe to bring water to the village itself. With the support of ‘Mother Rifle’ (Biyouna), a female village elder figure, Leila and her supporters are emboldened to continue their strike in the face of growing opposition from the men who are happy with the way things are – indeed see it as their cultural right to sit and watch as the women fetch the water every day.
The film follows the challenges the women face during their strike, examining the different reactions of the men – ranging from violence to understanding, from apathy to active support – and the journey the women go on as they work together towards their objective.  Fighting against the formidable forces of traditionalist values, established views on the role of the sexes, the teachings of religion and age-old customs the villagers have observed for centuries the women encounter a series of struggles, both emotional and physical. What starts out as a simple request soon becomes a fight to the bitter end to modernise not just the village facilities but the entire way of life of its inhabitants.
The role of symbolism will not be lost on anyone watching the film, and with well-respected French art-house director Radu Mihaileanu at the helm the importance of it is not to be underestimated. Water as a metaphor for love is central – as long as water does not flow in the village love, physical or emotional, will be put on hold. Mihaileanu describes it too as “a metaphor for the withering heart”, central to the functioning of the village, the relationships of its inhabitants and their existence as sensual human beings.

It would be easy for the film to take sides with its characters, as the divisive issues it tackles have great potential to create clear-cut victims and villains. Mihaileanu works hard however to maintain a relatively neutral eye throughout the film, presenting different sides of the argument and highlighting the human failings of those characters such as Leila who would be easy to put on a pedestal. “Alain-Michel (co screenwriter) and I both dislike writing totally positive or totally negative characters” he says, working instead to give them all a “subjectivity that might justify their reasoning”. This makes for a more thought-provoking film as the viewer has to work harder to decide who to sympathise with.
Another way Mihaileanu maintains a distance between his characters and their audience is by filming in Darija, a little known Moroccan dialect that will no doubt be foreign to the vast majority of those who watch the film. As well as adding an authenticity to the production it reinforces the village’s physical remoteness and the women’s isolation from outside help. For the Western audience the language is impenetrable, forcing us to depend on subtitles and the characters’ tone of voice to understand how they are feeling. Mihaileanu also shot the whole film using a handheld Steadicam camera, in order to give the impression the viewer happens “upon characters in more ‘accidental’ more ‘unexpected’ ways…to give the film a tale-like dimension” which compliments the narrative’s distanced, factual flow.
The line between traditional and modern is another strong theme for the film, as some in the village fight for their modern right and others oppose it. Various characters represent the modern strands of village life, such as Leila’s teacher husband Sami (Saleh Bakri) who dresses in modern clothing and supports her strike. He also went against his family’s wishes for an arranged marriage, marrying village outsider Leila for love instead. Interestingly though the film chooses not to go down the obvious route of casting younger characters only as supporters of modernism. The ‘Mother Rifle’, one of the oldest people in the community, is all for the strike and the women’s fight. She represents how the old can merge with the new without losing established cultures and tradition as many of the villagers fear.

Modernity also appears in the film through technology, which the women do have limited access to. Sami’s family has a mobile phone for example, and Leila’s ex-lover is presented as a modern journalist/scientist with scientific tools. Mihaileanu also cautiously broaches the topic of Islamic fundamentalism, as neutrally as he does all his themes, as Mother Rifle’s son takes on more extreme religious views. In the face of the rich Muslim community we witness however – where song, dance and kind values take central stage – the misguided modern perception of extremism as widespread within Muslim culture loses all meaning here.
Music is woven tightly into the film’s narrative, with the women conveying many of their demands through song. At one of the numerous humorous points in the film the women sing to a group of Western tourists about how their money will go to waste in the village. As a Western viewer you can’t help but identify with – and feel a little embarrassed by – how they sit and watch the women as though they’re objects without any understanding of what is being said. Whether their objectifying of the women is any worse than that of the more disrespectful men in the community is up to the viewer to decide.

The film is beautifully shot with stunning scenery and colourful clothing. Despite the language barrier it would be hard not to feel involved in the women’s fight and identify with their wishes for some kind of independence and say about how the village is run. One thing that viewers could find frustrating though is that the women, despite their hard fight, never become truly independent of their husbands, relying on them to take their demands to the local authorities rather than do it themselves.
Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring and ongoing unrest in the area the film is an interesting look at some of the driving forces that could be inspiring those fighting for social and political change in the region. Cleverly taking inspiration from current events and tales of the past – Mihaileanu also drew from Aristophanes’ Lysistrata – it is an absorbing tale of individuals drawing on communities for strength to overcome obstacles to development and a better life. An exotic music score and alien setting contrast well with the fulsome female characters, who help us to see past superficial differences and appreciate the women as individuals rather than the collective ‘other’ they may first appear to be.

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