Art & Culture

Although I disliked Radu Mihaileanu's previous film – The Concert – I am thrilled to say that I thoroughly enjoyed his new film, which is set in the North Africa. You can call it a crowd-pleaser (as was The Concert), but this time it's a compliment.

Once upon a time, there was a village – yes, it's a fairy story. In the village, old-fashioned Muslim ideas prevailed. Men do the fighting and the hunting, women tend to the home, and collect water from the well.  The trouble is, there is no more fighting or hunting to do, so the men sit in the cafe all day and gossip about nothing. Meanwhile, the women slog up a steep and stony path to the well, collecting two large buckets before trudging back down again; in some cases, this exertion and the falls they suffer) has resulted in miscarriage.

There's a new girl in town, from another village, who has married the handsome young school teacher – who adores her.This young woman, Leila by name, cannot see why women have to collect the water from the well while the men sit around picking their metaphorical noses. However, this is a conservative village, where disturbing the routine of a millennium is a criminal offence, and anyway, her mother-in-law hates her, and refuses to cooperate. However, there is an older woman who unexpectedly backs her, and they launch a programme of blackmail, whereby the men get no sex until they start pulling their weight (in water).

Needless to say the road to redemption is a long and rocky one, with much resistance and subversion on the part of the men who are always willing to stoop to nay tactics, including the use of religion, to justify their position. Leila's devoted husband is behind her, of course, but he alone is not enough to tip the balance, so it's a long old wait until we discover whether this problem can be resolved.

I am aware that this is a long way from being a documentary account of life in North Africa. There is a strong element of fantasy and wish fulfilment about the whole thing, not least in the way that the women find ways of communicating with the hapless men by means of singing and dancing at them – and I do mean 'at'. As a proto-feminist feelgood movie, it certainly beats the pants off Made In Dagenham or Calendar Girls, partly because of the location, and partly because it has more bite to it than those somewhat marshmallowy confections. I recommend it as a fun night out for gangs of liberated women and maybe some blokes who are able to see the lighter side of life.


By Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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