The Source takes its inspiration from articles that the director Radu Mihaileanu saw about a quite unusual dispute: "I have the articles from Liberation and Elle, which speak of women in a Turkish village who were taking water from the top of a mountain as depicted in the film and they went on strike from making love, saying to the men, 'if you don't bring water to the village we won't make love'. That is the reality of what happened in 2001, but after that everything in the film is a fiction."
Mihaileanu at first thought it foolhardy that he, a Romanian Jew, who made The Concert, a film about Russian musicians who play in France under false pretences, should make a film about women heavily influenced by Arabic mythology. At first, he wanted only to serve as the producer on the project and spoke to a couple of unnamed Arabic filmmakers to take the helm, but when that didn't work out he was persuaded to sit in the director's chair by his fellow producers.
He procrastinated a little. "First, I needed to live in the Arab world and speak to the women, to interview them," he says. "So I lived in a village in the High Atlas in Morocco. My story developed and it's not set in a specific country." He says it is in the tradition of fairy tales such as 1,001 Nights "where you don't know where it is, just somewhere. I also took the tradition of song and dance, which are also very deep traditions in Arabic countries".
Mihaileanu commands some excellent performances from Hiam Abbas (The Visitor, Miral) as a bitter old lady, Hafsia Herzi (Couscous) and Leila Bekhti (The Prophet) as the young, educated girl who persuades the women to stand up to what she sees as the lazy men of the village refusing to do any chores.
Water serves as a metaphor for the source of life, but the director admits that it also has another important role. "Water as an energy source, that will be the cause of the next big wars, unfortunately, because that will be much more important than oil and presently there is less and less water on the Earth."
Knowing that it would be easy to dismiss a foreigner making a film about the Islamic world, there are times when Mihaileanu perhaps overcompensates to ensure accusations of bias are not thrown at him. Through an interpreter, who also acted as a female go-between, he listened to the tales that the women told him in the High Atlas and incorporated them into the story, all the time taking care to show the utmost respect for the Quran, which he displays great knowledge and affection for. He adds: "Today, everybody says Arabs are bad, the Quran is bad, Muslims are bad. I want to say no, they are beautiful because they are human beings like anyone and to show that beauty."
He also imposed one other condition. "I said I would do the film only if it is in the Arabic language. Because if not, it will be the language of the coloniser and already I am from a western country and a Jew, so I don't need also to be telling the story in another language."
The result is one of the most unusual films about gender politics that you're likely to see in a cinema this year.
The Source is showing on Saturday at 5.45pm at the Abu Dhabi Theatre and on Monday at 3.45pm at Vox 8