Leila (Bekhti) is an outsider in her village, married to the suspiciously intelligent schoolteacher Sami (Bakri). And when she speaks out about the injustice, and danger, of women scaling a treacherous path every day to get water, everyone tells her to remain quiet. Eventually, she manages to convince the women to go on a "love strike", withholding sex until their husbands stop sitting around and get water piped into the village.
Set in the present day in a village that could be anywhere in North Africa or the Middle East, the film has a lively energy that sharply conveys the personalities of the characters. Bekhti and Bakri stir in layers of chemistry as well as a complex collision of marital attitudes as their characters are pushed in a variety of directions. And around them are stand-out performances from Biyouna as an older woman called Mother Rifle who has given up playing nice; Leklou as Sami's old friend, who feels left behind; and of course the always-terrific Abbass as Sami's disapproving mother.
The film does slightly strain our patience is in its wide range of subplots, including Leila's former boyfriend (Akhmiss), who arrives as a journalist investigating "infinitesimally small" insects (metaphor alert!), and Sami's little sister Loubna (Herzi), who has a secret romantic pen-pal and calls herself "Esmeralda" after the Mexican soaps the women watch.
There are several other things going on around the central events of the love strike, and all of them are finely observed with earthy camerawork, snappy editing, realistic performances and a lovely sense of the importance of music in the lives of these people (much of the important dialog is sung). So in the end, not only do we have a better understanding of the culture, but the film also reveals some remarkably telling truths about Islam as well. Which makes it vitally important as well as thoroughly entertaining.
Run time: 135 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 2nd November 2011
Box Office Worldwide: $360.9 thousand
Distributed by: Europa Corp
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Fresh: 5 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Radu Mihaileanu
Screenwriter: Alain-Michel Blanc, Radu Mihaileanu