Radu Mihaileanu’s THE SOURCE takes the audience to an unnamed present-day Maghreb village on top of a mountain, where women, regardless of age, are depicted in the repetitive task of going to fetch water from the nearest source and bringing it back to the village. A hand-held camera follows them curiously during the water-fetching fatigues and through close-ups focuses on their facial expressions engaged in the accomplishing of this duty, but also when they rest, sing, dance, laugh, give birth, lose a still unborn child, cry.
The swift synthesis of life and death in the initial sequence establishes these women, in their vivacious, colourful outfits and personalities, as the givers of life – both for the film and the lives of the villagers. As the source of their village’s primary element of existence, water, these women are shown to be the makers of their own destiny as well as of their own demise. Passively accepted and unquestioned, the men’s rules and hierarchies, as according to their interpretation of the Qur’an in regard to women’s position, are shown to be directly linked to the village’s history of unnecessary abortions. The village’s men comfortably sit around, drink tea and chat while the women carry out heavy and dangerous duties in and out of the family home. The only educated woman, Leila (Leila Bekhti), who is an outsider and is married to the village’s teacher, Sami (Saleh Bakri), has the courage to speak for all of them and set a challenge to the several levels of inequalities arbitrarily imposed on them.
…what the film interestingly pursues are the relational dynamics between women; Leila finds an even more unsympathetic wall of dismissal in the women she wishes to help.
If Leila’s principles of rebellion and renewal are expectedly rejected by the men, what the film interestingly pursues are the relational dynamics between women; Leila finds an even more unsympathetic wall of dismissal in the women she wishes to help. The film not only contextualises this story in the broad question of women and Islam, but it also tries to pierce through those received customs that the family is such a strong custodian of through its hierarchical structure. The family emerges as the source of the first and stronger form of resistance to change and as the first site for change to happen; the family thus is the locus from which this revolution should start from.
Conceived by Mihaileanu as a contemporary Joan D’Arc, Leila courageously carries out her plan of deconstruction of the arbitrary laws she and her fellow women are subjugated to both intellectually and physically as she first proposes all women embark on a ‘love-strike’. Slowly and with the ongoing support of the subversive Mother Rifle (Biyouna), the village’s women start acquiring awareness of themselves as women and human beings on their own terms, and follow Leila’s project to affirm their rights to have access to education, the fundamental principle for obtaining the changes they seek.
Despite occasional moments in which the film’s overall energetic rhythm seems to lose itself in sentimentality, the film’s success is also the result of beautiful cinematography and the cast’s strong performances.
Like previously done with THE CONCERT, Mihaileanu chooses music as the ambassador of his characters’ fights, the universality of which elevates the apparently enclosed setting of this remote village of North Africa onto a universal landscape of commonly shared experiences. It is in fact through the unrelentingly contagious rhythmic of the chants and dances that the women perform their harshest attack of the existing system and ridicule it – Mihaileanu himself wrote the texts of the songs that address the men’s stultified beliefs in their own so believed untouchable supremacy.
Despite occasional moments in which the film’s overall energetic rhythm seems to lose itself in sentimentality, the film’s success is also the result of beautiful cinematography and the cast’s strong performances. On the latter point, it should be noted the extent of Mihaileanu’s engagement with world (hi)stories: himself a Romanian, and having previously worked on stories set in Russia and Israel, for THE SOURCE he cast actors from different countries – North Africa, Palestine, Israel – a detail which gives a glimpse of Mihaileanu’s faith in the humanistic idea of a harmonious world-community. Suspended in an ever present and an ever past, within tradition and renovation, in the tragic and the comic, this modern tale and its luminous women celebrate the affirmation of life, and its sources, at its most authentic.
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