A whimsical tale of Muslim women, water and wedlock, with precious little direction, drive or purpose
Released just over a year after the Arab Spring uprisings that spread across the Middle East and North Africa, Radu Mihaileanu’s The Source places a group of revolutionary Muslim women at its core.
In a small, unnamed mountain village, iron-willed newlywed Leila (Leïla Bekhti) and the rest of the female community enforce a love strike against their husbands in protest at having to fetch water from a lofty mountaintop spring.
The treacherous rocky path that leads up to the life-giving source has ironically taken the lives of many of the village’s unborn sons and daughters. After her best friend miscarries following a fall, Leila (with the aid of her learned teacher husband, Sami, played by Saleh Bakri) decides to take matters into her own hands.
Distilling its inspiration from a real-life love strike that occurred in Turkey in 2001, as well as Aristophanes' Ancient Greek play, 'Lysistrata', The Source is a brave attempt to tackle some controversial issues while trying simultaneously to function as entertaining drama.
French-Jewish director Mihaileanu demonstrates a genuine deftness for light comedy, particularly in an early scene involving a visiting group of French tourists: as the women perform a traditional song and dance number, the language barrier prohibits the Gallic guests from gathering the ladies’ gist – namely, that their men folk are slovenly, insensitive children unable to fend for themselves. However, as the film’s tone darkens and the women’s plight becomes ever more desperate, Mihaileanu loses control of his narrative.
A subplot involving Leila’s childhood sweetheart – now a botanist obsessed with life’s minutiae – fails to register, while the women’s suppressed rage eventually shifts towards the local government for failing to provide essential amenities, effectively absolving their frequently abusive husbands.
This is very much A Separation-lite, purporting to tackle some of the big issues of modern Islamic society, yet ultimately unwilling to make a definitive stand in the same way as Asghar Farhadi’s tragic masterwork.
Last year’s Arab Spring will hopefully have a positive effect on Islamic filmmaking – Mihaileanu’s contemporary fable could be a vital vanguard effort.
Performances are strong throughout, but Mihaileanu seems unwilling to nail his personal beliefs to the post.
A whimsical tale of women, water and wedlock, with precious little direction, drive or purpose.