TIFF 2021: Quickening

Image courtesy of TIFF

Quickening covers a unique experience within a range of Canadian films documenting children of immigrants growing up in two worlds, and Haya Waseem’s feature debut firmly places itself in this realm.

Sheila (Arooj Azeem), the eldest of three children, is a performing arts major at university. Her protective mother, Aliya (Bushra Ashir Azeem), thinks the North American university lifestyle will entice Sheila to run amok and lose her Pakistani values. When Sheila’s crush becomes her first sexual encounter, the pressures of her strict upbringing and her yearning to belong take a toll on her mental health, putting a worst-case scenario in her head that manifests physically.

Waseem shines with Quickening, a coming of age story seen through the eyes of a young woman on the brink of change within her family, her experience as a young woman of colour, and first love. The film lulls you with beautiful and ethereal cinematography by Christopher Lew and a gentle score by Spencer Creaghan, putting the viewer in Sheila’s state of mind as she drifts through her life in a half-dream. Her will to please overbearing parents, explore life as a young adult and say goodbye to an idyllic, traditional life as it crumbles around her is too much to bear, and she experiences an unusual breakdown as a result of her isolation and rejection.

It’s a universal story for daughters of immigrant parents, the pressure to keep up appearances and explore the world around you. That constant struggle can be mentally taxing, living two lives, and Azeem captures this well with her performance filled with more than angst; she conveyed so many emotions it hits you in the gut. Azeem’s real parents play her onscreen family, and I can imagine the bonding experience they had on set as they dug deep to travel together on such an emotional journey.

Check out the 2021 TIFF festival here.

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