The Source (2012)

by Stefan Pape

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"Certainly a weak link of those in competition at Cannes last year..."

As the Cannes Film Festival is well under-way at present, it is in fact a film from last years selection which is now set for a British release - in Romanian director Radu Mihaileanu's The Source - a film that won a nomination for the prestigious Palme d'Or at last years event.

Set in a remote and archaic village in North Africa, we follow a group of women determined to claim some equality in an otherwise patriarchal society. The only running water to supply the village is a lengthy distance away, and it is the women's requirement to go and fetch the necessary resource. However following yet another miscarriage amongst the women as a result of the manual labour they must go through, the young and resolute Leila (Leila Bekhti) proposes a strike, where the women will reject any sexual relations with their husbands until the men go and fetch the water.

Despite the support of her husband Sami (Saleh Bakri) and local elder Vieux Fusil (Biyouna), the men in the village rise up against Leila's proposal, and as the wives all agree to go on a sex strike, the frustrated husbands refuse to give in, seeing the women's actions as disrespectful to both their families and their religion. Few of the men start turning to violence and rape to get what they want, whilst the women refuse to back down - as they hope to turn to the visiting journalist Soufiane (Malek Akhmiss) to draw attention to their appeal and persuade the government to build some pipes that will prevent taking the exhausting journey to the wells.

Mihaileanu  - whose most recent feature was the highly-respected The Concert - has presented a feature that combines joviality and harsh realism very daringly. In a sense the way the film cuts between scenes of domestic violence and tongue-in-cheek humour is intriguing, although whether it actually works is a separate matter, as one could certainly argue that the two sentiments both devalue the other as a result. What does work however is when we see parallel scenes of  the women sitting around discussing their issues and plans, before cutting to the men, discussing theirs. In that respect the film almost becomes like an Arabian Grease. Ironically, the film could also be tagged as a musical given the use of original numbers sung by the women, as they project their ideas to the suffering men.

The film does have its shortcomings however, as it is far too long and bears somewhat of a lengthy spell in the middle of the feature where little is achieved. It's quite a simple premise that is already asking a lot of 90 minutes, let alone being stretched out and surpassing the two hour mark. It becomes quite boring and tedious in parts, and for a film offering so many intense themes such as social politics and religion, it's relatively tame and not enough actually occurs. You feel that The Source is always on the verge of drama, and although highlighting severe themes such as rape and potential murder - they are just mildly touched upon rather than actually acted on.

On a more positive note Mihaileanu really captures the small village mentality and atmosphere, portrayed in the fact it's difficult to know exactly when the film is set, and it isn't until a mobile phone is used halfway through that you realise it's set in the present day. Such a sentiment suits the nature of the film as it proves how traditional and behind the times places such as this can be that it's difficult to know whether the film is contemporary or not.

The Source is a film that could be brilliant, as it bears a very fascinating and potentially compelling premise, yet it mostly lingers around the outside of drama rather than actually getting to its point, failing to truly engross its audience as a result. Certainly a weak link of those in competition at Cannes last year, one hopes that this year's short-list is of a slightly higher standard.





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