Film Reviews

Review: ‘What Walaa Wants’

Hot Docs 2018


What Walaa Wants
(Canada/Denmark, 89 min.)
Dir. Christy Garland
Canadian Spectrum (North American Premiere)

On the surface What Walaa Wants is a film about a young girl who wants to join the Palestinian Authority; however, it manages to explore a lot more than that. Walaa is a strong-willed impassioned teenager living in Balata, a refugee camp in the West Bank. Her mother was imprisoned for eight years and was part of a historic decision to release over one thousand Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier. Beginning soon after her mother returns home, the film follows Walaa as she sets out to achieve her own goals and become more independent.

Over the course of the film Walaa shines as an eloquent and brave young woman, determined to fight for her ideals. It is incredible to watch her grow and evolve, which the film conveys beautifully in contemplative close-ups that show a profound attention to detail and metaphor. The film captures the closeness of Walaa’s family and within it, exposes the implicit and explicit violence of everyday life in Palestine. It is interesting to observe the differing dynamics between Walaa and her mother, her peers, and authority figures. Walaa possesses a Mona Lisa smile, which suggests she is playing to us, her future audience. She is a natural performer and puts on a strong and provocative front, as teenagers often do, concealing a vulnerability which we only see in glimpses.

The film tells its story through the intimacy of conversations between family members, friends and through workplace situations, without interviews or voiceover. Walaa has such a dynamic personality that I ached to hear from her directly, but because of the cinéma vérité approach, we don’t hear her reflect, give insight into her choices or reveal her inner world. I was left wondering about her motivations: what she wants and why.

Walaa is a force. The immensity of her presence is undeniable. In a world that continues to dehumanize and victimize Palestinian people, reducing lives to numbers without names or stories, it is refreshing to see a film that portrays such a proud, resilient, young Palestinian woman. You will remember Walaa.

Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit hotdocs.ca for more info.

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