Quickening is one of those feature film debuts that are a joy to discover at any film festival. Writer/director Haya Waseem’s refined style delivers a bold statement on the pressures faced by young women existing between two cultures. She displays a rare talent for expressing the full emotional resonance of even the most fleeting of moments, and her grasp of the cinematic means each of those moments is breathtaking.
Sheila (played with an arresting but delicate intensity by Arooj Azeem) is a young Pakistani woman studying in an arts program at university. She lives with her parents (played by Azeem’s real life parents) and struggles for personal freedom, one that would allow her to be her own person. When a relationship with a fellow student ends abruptly, she is devastated and her despair manifests in a unique way.
Waseem gives this painful reality the nuanced approach it deserves. The film employs an entirely subjective point of view, a strategy that enables the director to mine the depths of this deeply confusing situation.
Waseem’s strategy of claustrophobic shooting, together with the stillness of her camera, enables us to enter Sheila’s deeply intimate inner world. Any movement in Quickening is highly significant and symbolically rich—always in the most sensitively resonant way. Nothing here is heavy handed. In fact, the understated qualities of the film brilliantly actualize the central theme of quickening—the first movements of a baby in the womb. This is an experience not soon forgotten.
Quickening screens as part of TIFF 2021, which runs from September 9 though to Sept 18.