Bride and Prejudice

Washington City Paper | March 27, 2006
The story seems simple, but Israeli director Eran Riklis and Palestinian feminist and co-writer Suha Arraf deftly inject the 98-minute movie with political, religious, and sociological complexity. The family lives in Majdal Shams, a Druze village whose residents’ official nationality is “undefined.” The wedding is set on the date Bashar al-Assad became president of Syria, and Hammed (Makram J. Khoury), the father of the bride—in both the film and real life—insists on spending part of the day demonstrating. He then comes home to find his son Hattem (Eyad Sheety), whom he expelled from the family eight years ago when Hattem married a Russian woman.

Because Hammed is on parole, he isn’t allowed to be present at Mona’s border wedding and is being carefully watched. And there’s more: Mona’s progressive sister, Amal (Hiam Abbass), is fighting with her old-fashioned husband, Amin (Adnan Trabshi), over “gossip” that she commits such atrocities as wearing pants. When a letter arrives announcing Amal’s acceptance to a university, Amin’s reaction isn’t one of support.

Through it all, Mona wanders around in her glowing white dress, her face as dour as if she were attending a funeral. The majority of the film takes place at the Israel–Syria border, with the entire family gathered to wait for the arrival of groom Tallel (Derar Sliman) and his family. When they do show up, red tape unspooled by stubborn officials on both sides of the line suspends the wedding in a frustrating purgatory. Meanwhile, the dusty no man’s land between Syria and Israel—which Riklis photographs in deep, stretching shots—is narrow enough for the stranded parties to communicate by bullhorn.

Add this to the fractures within Mona’s clan, and The Syrian Bride becomes a surprisingly resonant allegory about arrogance and missed opportunities for connection—and about the dismal odds of ever reaching peace because of these roadblocks. About the plight of women in Druze society, too—though in the film’s open-ended finale, both Mona and Amal are seen literally taking steps toward a world in which, one supposes, they will insist on making their own decisions. As notes of triumph go, it’s faint. But it’s also unmistakable.

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