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The Source - Review

The Source

Review by Louise Carleton

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

SET in an isolated village somewhere between North Africa and the Middle East, Radu Mihaileanu’s new film The Source focuses on female strength in a patriarchal society.

One would be forgiven for having original misgivings; with Islam often negatively and incorrectly portrayed in the media it would seem difficult material to tackle, especially for a French Jewish director.

But Mihaileanu does so expertly and movingly, finding the right blend of humour, great visuals and well rounded and interesting characters to make a great thought provoking story which, at its core, deals with the important relationship between men and women.

The action is based around a small traditional Arab village struggling through a drought. In order to fetch water, the women villagers must make the exhausting and dangerous climb to the well perched halfway up a mountainside.

One day tragedy strikes and Leila (Leila Bekhti), a foreigner from the south of the country who has recently moved to the village to live with her husband, a man she has married for love, decides to take action through the novel way of urging the women folk to go on a ‘love strike’, thereby refusing men any form of affection until they arrange for the water to be piped into the village. It creates a fierce battle of wills between the men and women villagers.

What follows is a narrative of female strength and camaraderie as well as the exploration of love in male and female relationships. Mihaileanu uses the simple analogy of a village in drought to symbolise how women need the love of their male counterparts to survive the same way as the village depends on water.

Although the film deals with the big issue of female rights, and in particular a women’s role in society and marriage (something that is important considering the location of the village and western perceptions of women’s place in the Arab world), the subject matter is tackled expertly and at times with humour and sensual delights, lightening what could be heavy content.

Throughout the film the audience is showered with beautiful traditional songs and dances all conveyed in the melodious lilt of the Moroccan Darija dialect, a language that Mihaileanu demanded be learnt despite himself and the majority of the cast being non-native speakers.

There are some lovely turns particularly from Leila Bekhti, who portrays a fierce yet sensitive Leila who works nicely against the ballsy and headstrong characters of Mother Rifle (Biyouna) and the young and disenchanted Esmeralda (Hafsia Herzi).

The end result is a beautiful picture and exploration of a small village and the powerful women who inhabit it.

Mihaileanu stresses the importance of love, female interaction and education as being liberating forces for women but without being patronising or condescending. Even the men who oppose their wives’ stance with violence are not to blame – instead they are portrayed as products of the village and the impotence the drought has imposed upon them.

Although the film can spark feelings of frustration at unjust moments, Mihaileanu is keen not to portray the women as victims and the end piece is a joy to watch with some beautiful visuals and inspiring moments.

(In Arabic, with subtitles)

Certificate: 15
Running time: 135mins
UK Release Date: May 18, 2012