In the 1960s there was an influx of emigration from North Africa to Europe with people searching for a better quality of life. Patience, Patience follows a group of older Muslim women who had immigrated to Belgium and spent their lives being perpetually submissive to their husbands. This loyalty and subservience was to be rewarded in the afterlife, as dictated by Islamic tradition. However, as their husbands pass away or begin to relinquish such control, these women are beginning to yearn for freedom and experiences that they feared would otherwise pass them by. Narrated by Mina, one of the women, we watch as they begin to understand what true independence feels like.
This exploration of freedom comes through road trips, lessons in reading and writing French, and even a holiday to the United States. We watch as the women grow in confidence, speaking freely about their Moroccan upbringing, the influence of Islam on their lives, and also how they have seen a stronger standing for women developing in recent years.
Particularly moving are the visits to Ground Zero and the United Nations building. In both instances, we are party to discussions that highlight that most important of differences between Islamic beliefs and jihadist beliefs. We see them mourn 9/11, and implore the UN representative to assist war-stricken countries like Syria in less violent ways.
Their pursuit of the nearest mosque in New York ends with them accidentally stumbling into a Baptist Church in Harlem. Watching the women as they warm to the evangelical nature of this African-American Christian worship is not just heartwarming but also important, as with their reactions to Ground Zero and their discussions in the UN building, to dispelling the extremist generalisation of Islam that, unfortunately, permeates much of the discussion about Islam in Western society.
Ultimately, there is nothing new about the way Lahbib chooses to shoot this documentary. Her choice of fly on the wall is neither innovative nor unwise given that it should be about the subject, not the filmmaking. In fact, Patience, Patience is perfectly unobtrusive and gentle. We follow, rather than interact with, the ladies at the centre of the documentary and thus the revelations of domestic abuse and lives crippled by fear of doing wrong by their husbands come of their own volition, instead of through pointed interviews.
The candid nature of the documentary actually assists Lahbib in not holding these women up to be pitied, but as portraying them as strong willed and adventurous in spite of their hardships. It would be so easy to suffocate the audience with aggressive sympathy but intelligent detachment from the filmmaker benefits the documentary.
Patience, Patience is a fascinating documentary with important messages about Islam, isolation and how culturally we should be more aware. As a parting thought, I opt for a line from one of the women that will live long in the memory: ‘May everybody live with dignity’. Right on.
Patience, Patience You’ll Go To Paradise is on selected release now. More details on available screenings here.