The Syrian Bride (2004)

“Perhaps I’m going from one jail to another.”

In The Syrian Bride a wedding is about to take place, but instead of being an occasion of pure joy, it’s an occasion mixed with the pangs of indecision, regret and imminent loss. This is due to the fact that the bride, Mona (Clara Khoury) is a Druze woman who lives in the Golan Heights in Israel. Her status is officially termed “Undefined” and when she travels to Syria to meet her new husband, she will never be allowed to return.

The film covers the last few hours of Mona’s life in her hometown of Majda Shams before she travels with her family members to the militarized zone at the border between Israel and Syria. Here, her family will say goodbye to their daughter forever, and Mona will cross the zone alone to her new life in Syria. Her father, political activist Hammed (Makram Khoury–he’s also the actress’s real-life father) has just been released from an Israeli jail, and he’s on probation. According to Israeli authorities, Hammed will not be allowed to accompany his daughter to the militarized zone and the border; they will have to say their farewells before she begins her journey. This is a particularly sensitive time politically as the Syrian president is dead, and his son is about to succeed him. The Israeli authorities anticipate demonstrations and possible violence in the Golan Heights.

Israeli director Eran Riklis takes the story of a fairly simple event–a family wedding, and places it in the context of the political turmoil of the Middle East and then explores the dichotomy between his characters’ political and personal selves. Hammed’s son, Hatten, for example, travels to Israel to say goodbye to Mona, and he brings his Russian wife and their son with him. He’s been gone for eight years, but according to his father, Hatten has betrayed the family by marrying an outsider. Hammed is pressured by Druze elders to shun Hatten, so there’s an awkward tension in the home when Hatten arrives. Hammed would like to welcome his son home, but he’s pressured in his role as a political leader. Similarly, Mona’s sister Amal (the splendid Palestinian actress Haim Abbass) is caught between her role as an obedient wife and her desire to enter university. Meanwhile, Amal’s teenage daughter has a forbidden relationship with a boy termed an “Israeli collaborator.” No one, it seems, is left unaffected by the volatile political situation.

What makes this film work so well is the fact that all the characters are treated sympathetically and with great humanity. No one is seen as the villain here–instead we see people caught in the roles dictated to them by their birth. And the person most trapped by her role is the Syrian Bride–a woman who is forced to choose simply because of the bureaucratic dictates of her birth. The fiasco at the border epitomizes the subjugation of the individual into the vast faceless political system that discounts the human side of things and instead relies on rules and regulations that are created without the consideration of the individual. In Arabic, French, Russian, English and Hebrew with subtitles.

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