The term ‘Arab Spring’ acquires a different resonance in this right-on character comedy about the women of an unspecified rural North African village who are determined to bring running water to their community. Ever since anyone can remember, these women have had to trudge up the mountain to bring back heavy pails of water from the local spring, the rock-strewn path a precarious route. The men, of course, just sip their tea on a terrace and do nothing, until the women hit on the notion of a sex strike to force them to sort it out.
This raucous conceit leads to expectations of a jolly farce, especially given the broad schtick in Romanian director Radu Mihaileanu’s last offering ‘The Concert’. Yet this is a prime example of a movie uncertain of whether it should be funny or serious and ending up being neither. Characters lay out the different shades between tradition and liberalisation on both male and female sides, but the pace positively dawdles, and though there are moments to raise smiles (a dance routine for tourists brings provocative Arabic lyrics bowdlerised in translation), genuine laughter is in short supply. Moreover, while there are charismatic turns from Leïla Bekhti as the most progressive young woman and the amazing Biyouna as an imposing matriarch, Mother Rifle, the story is dramatically lax because it’s obvious the filmmakers are there to endorse Western views on modernisation, rather than put such preconceptions to the test. The good intentions are obvious, but a bit more crunch is sorely needed.