The Source

EMMA WILKINSON thinks there are truly delightful scenes in this film but never has the word ‘moist’ been used so much and so out of place

Emma Wilkinson Film Leila Bekhti Radu Mihaileanu review The Source

Directed by Radu Mihaileanu


The Source follows the progress of Leila, a young woman in a remote desert village. She battles against the obstinate male figureheads, who insist that it’s the women’s duty to make the dangerous daily journey to fetch water. But what begins as an engaging account of a pioneering woman’s struggle to overturn the lazy patriarchal set-up of her village meanders into a vaguely monotonous account of rural life. Although the sense of a struggle is never lost, the focus passes swiftly between Leila’s own struggle, that of the village as a whole and, in the end, that of the audience.

On a personal level and larger scale, the women’s conflicts with their husbands were very emotionally-wrought and well-conveyed. Broaching gender equality on such a wide-ranging scale was quite a bold move, however, and a narrower focus might have given the film a firmer grounding. While the initial problem of water-fetching seems a simple enough agenda, Mihaileanu complicates his story by encompassing tradition, religion and familial problems in a range of interweaving subplots.

Contributing to the restlessness of the film is the influence of several parallel problems. As is evident in the division of their social groups, the village is reaching a fork in the road between its own traditions and urbanisation. Although this dilemma was deftly evoked, the hipster glasses worn by the microbiologist were perhaps one step too far. Much of the integrity of a home-grown fight against the system starts to crumble when a mysterious lover swoops in. His inevitable perpetual infatuation with Leila is the catalyst for the neat solution to all their problems – and not their commitment to the cause.

Somewhere amongst the vast web of woes and tribulations, however, are smatterings of truly delightful scenes. Sister Rifle is a supreme force of nature, and it is almost worth watching The Source purely to see an older woman of questionable sanity plodding through the desert on a donkey whilst nagging her son on her mobile.

What remains unsatisfying about The Source is the feeling that this could have been a soulful, ground-breaking film. As it is, there are certainly heart-warming moments and some exquisitely funny lines, but the powerful resolution isn’t there. Worth the ticket price alone, however, are the unrelentingly literal translations of the songs. Never has the word ‘moist’ been used so much and so out of place.