The Source/La Source des Femmes


Directed by Radu Mihaileanu. Starring Leila Bekhti, Hafsia Herzi, Biyouna, Sabrina Ouazani, Saleh Bakri, Hiam Abbass, Mohamed Majd, Amal Atrach, Malek Akhmiss Club, IFI, Dublin, 135 min

AWW! LOOK at the colourful tribal people with their eccentric ways and generous, rustic senses of humour. What are they up to this week?

Well, it seems that the ladies of the village, annoyed that they’re forced to carry water from the well, have all decided to go on a “love strike”. There will be no hanky panky until the men help with that arduous task. Aren’t they adorable!

Directed by Radu Mihaileanu, who made the likably silly The Concert, this French comic drama is not without its lumbering charms. Set among the Maghreb people of North Africa, The Source revels in its ruggedly beautiful scenery and makes efficient use of its talented cast. If it had been a little shorter and a little leaner it might even have stood a chance of becoming a crossover hit. But the thing is so eye-wateringly patronising to its subjects that you feel like taking a shower when it eventually grinds to its much- protracted close. Mr Mihaileanu needs to have a word with the post-colonial thought police.

The cheesy central plot is triggered when the feisty Leila (Leila Bekhti), who has spent time in the liberal south, notes the number of miscarriages caused by the water-carriers’ ascent to the distant well. She suggests that the men help out until a pipeline arrives, but her unsubtly vicious mother in law (the great Hiam Abbass) is having none of it Eventually, Leila comes up with the notion of a sex ban.

You couldn’t accuse Mihaileanu of laziness. Subplots abound: Leila’s sister-in-law learns to read; an old boyfriend turns up to cause trouble; the religious conservatives are put in their place. There is the odd outbreak of singing and dancing.

But all this energy fails to conceal the bogus quaintness at the heart of the project. Uninterested in the anthropology of the region, desperate to sweep away dust and mud, The Source comes across like a cute play staged for visiting tourists. Enjoy it, then get back on the bus.