Next in my viewing of the virtual titles for the Atlanta Film Festival is the Dutch war film Do Not Hesitate and the Pakistani-Canadian coming of age film Quickening, screened at the Discovery and New Wave selections at TIFF. Though very different in terms of story, both films wield their dramatic weight to portray a sense of unease, the first within a warzone and the second within a life seemingly falling apart. Buckle up, and keep reading:
Do Not Hesitate
Who would have thought a goat could cause this much trouble? A group of boys and their commanding officer Paula (Anna Keuning) are deployed to the Middle East on a peacekeeping mission. When the wheel comes off of their transport vehicle, they are forced to hunker down and stay with the vehicle until assistance can be flown in. Erik (Joes Brauers), the protagonist of this story, notices some movement in the bushes and alerts his fellow soldiers. One of the men opens fire, and moving closer, sees that he had shot a goat. After putting the goat out of its misery, the men return to Paula, and think little more of the incident. That is, until a local boy (Omar Alwan) arrives and asks where his goat is. The soldiers offer $50 in compensation for killing the boy’s goat, but the boy is incensed, screaming and fearless of the soldiers.
A night passes, and the soldiers are informed that their rescue helicopter won’t be arriving that day. They are then instructed to secure the area, so the soldiers split, Paula taking half of the men to investigate a lookout point, while Erik stays with the vehicle, two soldiers, and the boy who refuses to leave the soldiers. During this time, as supplies dwindle and the men become restless, their situation deteriorates with the boy. Erik offers food and drink to the boy, attempting to be friendly, but his fellow soldiers are dismissive of Erik’s niceties and confrontational with the boy. The soldiers show fear and prejudice, escalating yelling matches with the frustrated boy (which I might add, do little to conceal their presence), and what becomes clear by the end of Do Not Hesitate is that it’s not the goat that’s the problem… It’s much more.
In Quickening, director Haya Waseem tells the story of a Pakistani-born teenager, Sheila (Arooj Azeem), whose family is new to Canada. She is a student and also attends dance classes, and this is where the film opens. She is clearly talented, but not quite performing up to her teacher’s standards. This opening scene of the film is the first pull at a string that continues to unravel over the course of Quickening.
Sheila meets Eden (Quinn Underwood), a classmate who she takes a liking to and ultimately has sex with. Shortly thereafter, Eden breaks off their tryst saying that he is not ready for a relationship. Having clearly led Sheila on, she feels betrayed and matters are made worse when she takes a pregnancy test. Through a title card prior to the film (the definition of the word “pseudocyesis”), we are led to believe she is not truly pregnant; however, Sheila wholly believes she is pregnant and her morning sickness reinforces this idea. As a teenager, Sheila’s relationship with her parents isn’t at its finest, and she overhears her parents arguing and learns her father has lost his job. Given they live in a beautiful home, their future there is very much at stake.
Quickening grapples both with unplanned pregnancy as well as Sheila’s relationship with her parents, played by Azeem’s real-life parents. As such, performances are taut with tension and each actor and actress rises to the occasion. Also of note is the cinematography of Christopher Lew. Each frame of Quickening is meticulously composed and vivid with expression. Though Quickening is a drama film, one could convince themselves that the film is a psychological thriller the way that it is shot. Put together, Waseem’s film suggests strong promise for the director’s future even if it struggles at times to balance its two themes narratively.