It was an ambitious idea for a Romanian-born, French-speaking, male director to make a film about Arab feminism from the point of view of rural Moroccan women. But Radu Mihaileanu seems to have done his homework; The Source is a sensitive portrayal of a present-day community held back by entrenched views and tradition, but with great hope embodied by its increasingly well-educated youth.
Mihaileanu’s film tells the story of the women in this archaic community, who rebel against the long-established, dangerous tradition whereby they must climb a treacherous mountain path to fetch water. Young, well-read Leila (Leila Bekhti), horrified at the number of women who miscarry as a result of falling on this trek, calls for a women’s love strike – no kisses, no cuddles, no sex – until running water is installed in the village. A strong central performance is given by the stunning Bekhti (the latest ambassador for L’Oreal).
The resonance with the recent Arab spring is self-evident. The women of the village rise up against their men, who we mostly see exercising their patriarchal right to sit around all day drinking tea and smoking. Leila’s husband Sami, a progressive schoolteacher of the younger generation, is an exception.
The simple, linear plot is compensated for by an emotional realism of great force. The women portrayed are strong, used to maltreatment, and do not indulge in self-pity or easy tears. Their inspiring resilience to violence is shocking at times, however, close-up face shots add a tenderness and sense of hidden vulnerability which is quite touching.
Despite the heavy subject matter of domestic violence, miscarriage and rape, the film manages to retain a certain lightness, provided mostly by the brilliant Biyouna, who plays ‘Old Warhorse’, a hardy character who contributes comic moments with her no-nonsense attitude.
For those of us who are interested in the human fight for tolerance, equality and progress will appreciate this film. At times slow-moving, it none-the-less carries emotional power and relevance, and will undoubtedly be watched by too few.