Leila (Bekhti) left, and Sami (Saleh Bakri) right
La Source des Femmes is and Arabic language film which relates the tale of a community of women who go on ‘love strike’ against their husbands in a remote village in Morocco. It premiered In Competition at the 2011 Cannes
Film Festival and is now on release in selected cinemas in London.
The strike is a result of a dispute between the two genders as to whom should fetch the water from the well, high up in this mountainous region. The women have had enough of the physical drudgery and exertion of the climb to reach the source of water, even when pregnant, and want to make a stand against their menfolk to exert pressure on the local government to provide them with a piped water supply, directly to their village. This triggers off far deeper issues, such as the role of women in a conservative and traditonal Arab village, issues which resonate throughout many Arab societies, that of tradition and customs versus modernism and gender, which emerged through humour and passion in this intimate and sensitive film.
The filmmaker, Romanian-born Radu Mihaileanu, clearly wants us to think deeply about ourselves when viewing his work. Perhaps what is most interesting and what some may say is down to fate, is that the film was made during the Arab uprisings, when issues such as freedom, equality, human rights and women’s rights were the backbone to their rallying cry for democracy. Also the fact that in many of the countries affected by the Arab Spring as well as those which saw minor protests, women were at the forefront of the struggle, and their voices rang out.
Still, despite what can be deemed a rather earnest call for females to rise up and literally take off the veil, there’s an unwieldy familiarity with the film that touches on normal day-to-day relationships.
The film presents a universally simplistic argument, where women decide they no longer want to fetch water from a nearby well while their men sit around drinking tea and playing cards. Given that Leila (Bekhti), Loubna (Hafsia Herzi) and the proud and loudmouthed Mother Rifle (Biyouna), have very little persuasion over the macho, Qur’an-quoting males who control the remote enclave, so they resort to the primal power of women by denying their husbands of the one thing they most desire, love and sex.
As an outsider married to the town’s sole intellectual, Sami (Saleh Bakri) Lelia suffers the wrath of an evil mother-in-law and other traditionalists who believe a wife’s place is beside the hearth and nowhere else. When an old flame (Malek Akhmiss) pops up unannounced, he drives a wedge between Sami and Lelia that spills over into the greater struggle for the townswomen to have their way at all costs, leading up to the finale -- a free-spirited battle pitting feminist yearnings against Muslim mores.
Trying to hold this mixed bag together is not always easy, and rather than building a steady dramatic arc, Mihaileanu piles on a succession of scenes, some which delight through their humour and energy, others which disappoint through a tendency towards dialogue in which every character wears their heart on their sleeve. Thus, a subplot involving the illiterate Loubna’s love for a local boy. But there are also several scenes where the women sing songs (one to a group of ignorant tourists), which provides an entertaining and comedic example of how they can wage war on their own terms.