Radu Mihaileanu “La source des femmes” (2011)

In a village somewhere in North Africa another woman has an involuntary abortion while bringing water from the remote fountain in the mountains. Laila tries to convince the rest of the women to press their husbands and bring water to town. Slowly, Laila and Viex Fusil convince all women to start an unusual strike: no sex until water flows to the village through tubes. Difficulties soon start to appear and women had to stand not only to humiliations but also beatings and threats of repudiation. Tension increases as the unsettled mood in the village tries to turn everything against Laila and her husband Sami.

la source des femmes_0The conflict erupts as women in North Africa had traditionally bore the greatest workload at home while men went to war and worked the fields. But after independence there have been no wars and the drought makes agriculture impossible. Unemployment keeps men idle while women keep on working as they have always done. Sami tries to help the strikers and goes to the prefecture in the city asking for what was promised years ago. But even there he finds the same reaction that from the oldest members of his community. “When they get water they will want washing machines… you know how expensive that is? You should beat them until they respect you.”

But the struggle for running water is only the peak of their wishes, at the bottom of their complaints there is a clear demand: equality. While division of labor and the strictly genderized spheres of action is the driving narration of this battle between the sexes, marriage is the hidden topic. Arranged engagements and weddings are the implicit subject of discussion. The message of this film is that the source of happiness and respect in a relationship between a wife and a husband is love, and this can only grow if bride and groom plant it themselves instead of their families.

In the village, Islam and tradition are thought as one block of reasons that the opponents of the strike hold against the rebellious women. They obtain support from a group of bearded men dressing white robes and tawaq (sing. taqiya) finding a very worrisome solution. On the other hand, the local imam is somehow convinced by the women after a debate with Leila who, taught to read and write by her husband, quoted the Quran and the Hadith to counter the opinion of the literalists. According to her, Islam is only about love and about ascending towards God; all the rest is pure interpretation.femmes

Music plays a very important part of the narration as women pose their claims through this channel. Traditional dances and songs are reappropriated by the strikers and refilled with political content. It is this ambiguous location of tradition the most interesting part of the movie.  While their dances attract the attention of tourists and mainstream media, it is this same tradition that is wielded to push them to carry out their water duties .

Probably, the best achievement of the movie is to expose this story vilifying neither Islam nor tradition. They are social tools and they can be instrumental in favor of oppression or liberation. It all depends on the interpretation. In sum, the movie is an interesting approach to gender relations in rural North Africa. And, without sugarcoating the situation of these women, the audience is offered a humorous view on how family relations are altered on the verge of the so-called “modernity.”



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