"The Source" (2011) a.k.a La Source des Femmes or The Women's Fountain is showing on November 27, 2012, the Gaborone Film Society at 7 pm in the A/V Centre at Maru a Pula School. It is a recreation of the ancient tale told by Aristophanes told in his Lysistrata where the women of ancient Greece brought peace over the desires of their warring husbands. It is now presented as interpreted by the Romanian filmmaker Radu Mihaileanu. As in his Le Concert (Mmegi, 19th April 2011) that was shown as part of the Russian Film Festival last year, he has a tendency to mix tragedy, comedy and farce all in one cinematic soup. The verdict of the final result is really up to your own personal taste.
What is unusual about The Source is that the story is set in southern Morocco in the Atlas Mountains and made with Arabic speaking actors. The lovely Leila (played by the French actress, Leila Bekhti, whose parents are from Algeria, and who was here before in a segment of Paris je t'aime (2006), has married into a remote mountain village in the interior of North Africa. Leila's husband is Sami (acted by Saleh Bakri) who is a progressive teacher in the local village school. He holds liberal ideals and wishes to see his village change and become modern. Leila has a secret from her past that she has not revealed to anyone in the village. This will nearly be her undoing.Sami's mother is a conservative ruler of her household, Fatima (acted by Hiam Abbass, a Palestinian actress who starred in The Visitor and The Lemon Tree, both shown previously by the GFS). She resents Leila for taking her son away from her, for being educated and a foreigner, and for befriending her daughter Loubna a.k.a Esmeralda (acted by Hafsia Herzi). Leila is secretly teaching Esmeralda to read and write in Arabic. Esmeralda thinks she is in love with a young man, Slim, who has left the village. Through Leila she exchanges letters with Slim; but they are not taken by the bus to the distant city, but are carried by an old peddler.
Sami has an older brother, Hussein (Mohamed Majd) who is more conservative and tradionalist. Sami also has a best friend from his youth, Karim (Karim Leklou) who was removed from school and denied his ambitions by his family. Karim is jealous of Sami and his successes. Water is not readily available in the village during a prolonged drought. There is a small spring high in the mountains, up a winding and stoney trail. Many are the women who, yoked to two large pails of water, have fallen and had miscarriages on the rocky mountain trail. Even Leila has lost a child and is considered barren by Fatima, who urges Sami to take a second wife so she can have a grandchild. But Sami adores Leila and wants only her. Or does he? Will he succumb to tradition and the pressures from others?
When Leila suggests a boycott, she is supported by one of the village elders, Vieux Fusil or old flintlock, translated as Rifle in the English subtitles (played by Biyouna). Vieux Fusil was married off to an older man of 40 when she was 14. He was not the one she loved, but the man her family insisted she marry. She gave him 19 children. Only seven have survived. Now a widow for a decade, Vieux Fusil has no one to withhold her matrimonial duties from, but she can share in the cause of the younger women, if they all unite behind the love strike. They tell the men they can "flood the village with love through a pipe".
The men, who sit and drink coffee, gossip and moan on a terrace, receive monies from bus loads of tourists, for whom the women must dance and sing, but they refuse to support a pipeline from the mountain to the village.They claim it is good for the women to do their duties, even walking up the mountain to carry water down in buckets. Sami tells Leila that "your cause is just; you have the right to fight". This will turn the conservative elders and his brother against him too. Leila stirs the will of the women by reading to them from One Thousand and One Nights, and helping them to learn to quote from the Koran to support their cause. Vieux Fusil instructs the younger women how to resist their husbands, even how to use garlic and ginger to sustain the strike.
Unfortunately the film has a number of sub-plots that serve to make it longer than necessary, but add very little to the story. One is a plot to replace the Imam who has sided with the striking women. Another involves the letters Leila writes for her sister-in-law. A third allows Karim to declare his confusion to Sami. Then there is the role of the Mexican soap operas the women are able to watch on television. These seem to influence their values and introduce their use of Spanish phrases. A Fifth, and more significant, introduces a journalist, Soufiane (Malek Akhmiss), who poses as an entomologist, studying tiny insects, but actually has a link to Leila from their mutual past. He refuses, at first, to help the women, claiming he is not political. Soufiane will eventually help and his report will be debated in Parliament, where the MPs fear the demands of the people will be for more than just water.
There are some intriguing song and dance routines. One is called "What is a woman?" In the end this mix of a movie comes together and leaves a good feeling, even though it has skirted around and only alluded to some very fundamental issues in the lives of the mountain people. The Source is two hours long. It is rated 15+. It is in Arabic with English subtitles. The director is Radu Mihaileanu who wrote the script with Alain-Michel Blanc. The cinematographer is Glynn Speeckaert. The production designer is Christian Niculescu. The editor is Ludo Troch. The costume designer is Viorica Petrovici. The very fine music is by Armand Amar.