TIFF Review: 'Quickening' Is a Subtle Depiction of Internal Chaos Directed by Haya Waseem

Starring Arooj Azeem, Bushra Azeem, Ashir Azeem
TIFF Review: 'Quickening' Is a Subtle Depiction of Internal Chaos Directed by Haya Waseem
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Don't be fooled by the meandering and atmospheric feel of Haya Waseem's debut feature, Quickening. This film teeters close to noir — in the best way. 

In broad strokes, the plot is an emotional drama. Pakistani-Canadian girl Sheila (Arooj Azeem) falls in love with a white boy named, appropriately, Eden in university. But when he dumps her, she begins to fall apart, as does the comfortable world her parents (portrayed by Azeem's actual parents, Bushra Azeem and Ashir Azeem) have built for her and her siblings. 

Waseem's written a stellar main character with Sheila, who, as the movie unfurls through a Jane Campion-esque aesthetic (deeply elemental, mired in sensuousness, quintessential female gaze), becomes a femme fatale in an almost imperceptible way. After Sheila loses her virginity to Eden, he ends things with her — it was never as serious for him as it was for her — and begins pursuing another girl in their cohort. As Sheila finds out she's pregnant, her dad loses his job and her overbearing, classically South Asian mom begins blaming and nagging him for not having the foresight to have seen his layoff coming. As the eldest daughter, Sheila is the sounding board for all her parents' financial worries, as well as the bulwark protecting her younger siblings from their parents' terrifying fighting. 

What makes Sheila a femme fatale is difficult to describe without spoiling the film. But her mysteriousness lies in her inwardness, and she is seductive for this reason. Waseem has created a complex character with Sheila, who listens and observes her surroundings while also experiencing a slow, tragic collapse from within. This is a character negotiating madness in the most subtle way, and through her Waseem shows the potential a Pakistani girl can have for clever, nuanced intrigue.

That this film borders on noir means that Sheila isn't calculating or manipulative or nasty — she is a deeply sympathetic character, but she's also the dark anchor holding this film together with her sadness and loneliness. Ultimately, she makes a journey toward becoming the main character she doesn't know she already is. (levelFILM)