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"What Walaa Wants" is the story of a headstrong young woman who wants to join the Palestinian Authority. // Courtesy of the NFB

Review: What Walaa Wants generates thought, empathy, and stereotype-smashing questions

What Walaa Wants
Directed by Christy Garland; Metro Cinema; Sun., Feb. 17 (3 p.m.)
Our Score
What Walaa Wants

By Miya Abe

Walaa is very much a typical teenager: she blasts Usher on her stereo, smokes hookah, and is constantly in trouble at school. But Walaa was raised in Balata, a refugee camp in Palestine, and her mother is one of 1,024 Palestinian prisoners just released from an Israeli prison. Walaa’s headstrong personality and the fact that she lives amongst passionate opposition to the Israeli occupation spur her desire to join the Palestinian Authority.

It seems nobody believes in Walaa, especially her mother and brother; she’s also jeered at by her friends. But Walaa remains strong in her desire to receive Palestinian Authority training. The film spans several years as we see her accepted into training camp and see her slowly achieving her dream. The camera lingers unflinchingly on her strains, failings, and hardships as she is emotionally and physically pushed to her limits and both the viewers, and Walaa, are left wondering whether this path is the right choice.

Layered storytelling thwarts viewers’ expectations at every turn; just when we think we have a handle on Walaa’s story, we are faced with something unexpected that not only challenges our perceptions of her, but our perceptions of what Palestinian Authority training might be like. Sexism, female friendships, rebellion, and familial bonds are explored in this film with complexity—is Walaa headstrong, or does she need to curb her attitude problem? Does the training favour men over women, or does the Palestinian Authority support the vocational growth of all its recruits? Our opinions, and the direction of Walaa’s journey to becoming an officer, change rapidly, making this an exhilarating story to watch.

Filmmaker Christy Garland explores Walaa’s story with stark realism, showcasing—in a way many ‘documentaries’ do not—the meandering course of real life and the ways in which someone’s choices and beliefs are not black or white or straightforward. This is a film that showcases the determination to achieve one’s dream, and importantly, forces us, at times, to challenge our own perceptions and stereotypes of the collective and individual, in surprising and empathetic ways.

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