Arooj Azeem in Quickening (2021)
The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival is shaping up to be a stellar landscape for directorial debut features by women. From drama to comedy, and horror to documentary, vivid new voices around the globe are bringing forth exciting perspectives on universal themes.* In the intimate coming-of-age film Quickening, Pakistani Canadian writer-director Haya Waseem tells a story of a young woman in suburbia holding onto individuality in the face of societal pressures. From the first frame, Sheila (Arooj Azeem) is introduced in a moment of serious contemplation. Parallel to her frame of mind, the film embarks on a journey where both everything and nothing seem possible at the same time. The butterflies from falling in love, or nearing a first-year school program, feeling a world full of possibility, are met with the finality of expectations faced by young women of colour. Waseem explores the reality of societal pressures from the eye of cultural traditions, where her protagonist’s unfulfilled desire for autonomy has an alienating effect on family and friends.
Arooj Azeem soars in her first film role with a performance of staggering intimacy. Sheila carries the weight of several responsibilities and their waves of emotion. She wants to make her parents proud. She wants to belong, and someone to talk to when she’s going through a heartache or facing a fear. Azeem’s portrayal conveys intriguing insight into the state of her character’s mental health. Accompanied by a sweeping score and striking imagery, Waseem’s film absorbs a quicksand feeling. How quickly people and places can change when yielding to pressure. How suddenly those who rest on a turn of events can get swept away by the mounting tide. Quickening shines with a lucid portrayal of day-to-day family life, and a compelling lead performance of simmering determination.
Quickening had its premiere on September 12th at the Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF21 runs September 9-18, 2021.
*Among Haya Waseem’s stirring voice, here’s a collection of all directorial debut features by women premiering at TIFF21:
Aloners (dir. Hong Sung-eun)
As In Heaven (dir. Tea Lindeburg)
Attica (dir. Stanley Nelson & Traci A. Curry)
A Banquet (dir. Ruth Paxton)
Beba (dir. Rebeca Huntt)
Costa Brava, Lebanon (dir. Mounia Akl)
Farha (dir. Darin J. Sallam)
Murina (dir. Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović)
Neptune Frost (dir. Saul Williams & Anisia Uzeyman)
A Night of Knowing Nothing (dir. Payal Kapadia)
Night Raiders (dir. Danis Goulet)
Scarborough (dir. Shasta Nakhai & Rich Williamson)
Silent Land (dir. Agnieszka Woszczynska)
Silent Night (dir. Camille Griffin)
Small Body (dir. Laura Samani)
The Game (dir. Ana Lazarevic)
The Hill Where Lionesses Roar (Luàna Bajrami)
To Kill The Beast (dir. Agustina San Martin)
You Are Not My Mother (Kate Dolan)