Tag Archives: arranged marriage

Rachida (2002)

 “Hell is in my heart.”

Rachida an Algerian film directed by Yamina Bachir Chouikh explores the affects orachidaf terrorism on a young teacher. On the way to school, Rachida (Ibtissem Djouadi) is surrounded by a group of terrorists who demand that she plant a bomb at her school. When she refuses, she’s shot at point blank range. Although Rachida recovers, her psychological scars remain. Realizing that Rachida may be a potential target, her mother decides to move from Algiers into a remote village for safety, but it seems that violence is inescapable.

Rachida doesn’t glamorize terrorism–neither does it waste any time on humanizing the terrorists. Instead its focus is squarely on the innocents–those people who are working and struggling to make ends meet when suddenly their lives are ripped apart by violence. The village Rachida and her mother move to is subjected to frequent raids by a youthful thuggish gang of violent, well-armed terrorists. Rachida’s experiences are emblematic of the terrorist unrest in Algeria in the 90s (over 100,000 lives were claimed by terrorist violence). The villagers are easy pickings for the terrorists who swoop in and conduct armed raids, slaughtering and raping as they fancy.

Rachida is obviously not a high budget film, but nonetheless, this film is all that’s right in foreign cinema these days. Ibtissem Djouadi delivers a moving portrait of a young woman who struggles to maintain her human dignity in the face of inchoate, senseless violence. While the film touches on the fact that the terrorists are members of the Islamic Salvation Front, the film also focuses on the victimization of women in a patriarchal society that views women as property. One young girl, for example, is forced into marriage while the young man she cares for is constantly run off by her father–another young girl is raped by terrorists and ejected from her home as she’s somehow considered to blame for what happened to her. Scenes of great beauty (there’s a fantastic wedding party sequence) are juxtaposed with scenes of senseless cruelty, but the film is subtle, and doesn’t plant any unrealistic political speeches in the mouths of its characters. For those who watch the DVD, “The Director’s Statement”, and the section “Film in Context” should not be missed. This is a marvelous film, and by its conclusion, Rachida’s question remains: “Where was all this hate buried?” In French and Arabic with English subtitles.

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Wild Sargasso Sea (1993)

 Erotic tale behind Jane Eyre

wide-sargasso-seaWide Sargasso Sea is the ‘prequel’ to Jane Eyre. It’s the story of an 18th century, Jamaican heiress Antoinette Cosway (Karina Lombard) and her arranged marriage to the young Edward Rochester (Nathaniel Parker). Rochester isn’t too thrilled about marrying an unknown foreigner, but as a good, obedient second son with no prospects, he accepts his father’s wishes and sails to Jamaica. Antoinette isn’t exactly ecstatic about the match either, but her family has a troubled history, and Rochester, as an outsider hasn’t heard the tales. But Rochester isn’t unhappy when he sets his eyes on his luscious, nubile new bride, and soon the young couple moves to the bride’s country estate of Coulibri. Once they are established here, things begin to go wrong. Rochester loathes the unruly, lush surroundings, and Antoinette’s voodoo-addicted servant, and he’s also both bewitched and uncomfortable with his bride’s rampant and frank desire.

While the book version of Wild Sargasso Sea (by Jean Rhys) emphasized Antoinette’s instability, the film focuses more on Edward. He is, at first, happy to embrace all the passion of his new conjugal relationship, but quite soon, it’s clear that he resents this passionate release, and he also resents the cause of it. Jamaica represents a lawless, uninhibited place, and he verves away from it as one makes a conscious choice to avoid bad habits. He simply can’t grasp the servants’ status. He gives an order and expects it to be mildly obeyed–instead he meets sullen resistance. He doesn’t understand the history of slavery on the island, the slave revolts or the inevitable consequences.

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels, so when I heard that Wide Sargasso Sea picked up the Jane Eyre story, I was fascinated. Visually, the film is stunningly beautiful. Edward’s nightmares are eerie and beautifully photographed. Somehow the film captures the essence of the theme–rot and decay at the heart of beauty. It’s a little cheesy in parts, but the film also delves into some rich food for thought–the Victorian suppression of sexuality, and the results of imperialism, for example. Not many books or films can interject into an established story both seamlessly and effectively, but Wide Sargasso Sea manages to do just that. Edward Rochester always seemed a bit on the shady side to me, and Wide Sargasso Sea explores many of the unanswered questions left by Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece. From director John Duigan.

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Cowboy del Amor (2005)

“Gringo looking for Mexican wife.”

Love and marriage are both dodgy, unpredictable things–even in the best of circumstances, so I wish anyone who opts for an ‘arranged’ or ‘mail-order’ marriage the best of luck. That said, I approached the documentary film, Cowboy Del Amor  with some trepidation–hoping that it didn’t paint too optimistic a picture of an industry whose job ends at the precise point the married couple have to begin all the hard work of making their union work.

Luckily, I found Cowboy Del Amor fascinating, riveting and highly entertaining, and while the documentary did not alter my opinion about arranged marriages, the footage of Cowboy Cupid Ivan Thompson’s attempts to hook up middle-aged American men with Mexican women is a study in the ironic foibles of human nature. The film is buoyed up by the quirky, ultimately optimistic, opinionated personality of Thompson, a perennial matchmaker. Thompson–a New Mexico cowboy–who sees parallels between the “horse business” and the “woman business”, has operated his matchmaking business for over 16 years–advertising from billboards, and with an answering message machine that warns prospective wife seekers that if they’re “looking for a guarantee” they’re better off going to Walmart, and getting an appliance and should “leave women alone.”

The film begins with Thompson traveling to Mexico with Rick, a 48-year-old truck driver, who, after a failed marriage, is looking for love, and he’s paid Thompson the princely sum of 3,000 to help him find it. Thompson’s seasoned–albeit surprisingly off the cuff approach is simply to travel to Torreon and place an ad in the paper. Thompson employs an interpreter to set up awkward interviews with prospective brides. That done, the two men wait in a hotel room for the phone to ring….

Deftly directed by Michele Ohayon, the film follows Rick’s romance, and also the endeavors of another lonely soul–dour used car salesman, James. While it’s difficult to swallow the various male theories of female menopause as the deux-ex machina element that swooped in and destroyed their marriages, it’s fascinating, nonetheless, to watch these couples and the choices they make. And while the American male perspective that Mexican women “expect less” than American women is nothing new, the Mexican women’s perspective of why a relationship with a “gringo” is desirable, creates some fascinating footage.

We see Thompson advising one man who’s suffered through three divorces, to deduct one, and we see Rick insisting on a target weight for any perspective bride. Meanwhile we get a glimpse of Thompson’s own less-than-successful marriage to a Mexican woman, the financial fallout from the event, and Thompson’s version of events vs. his ex-wife’s version. While the film did not alter my opinions in any sense–in fact if anything it underscored my skepticism regarding matches that combine huge inequities in age or socioeconomics, nonetheless, this non-judgmental film provides an entertaining look at an industry that is fed by loneliness and need. The digestibility of Thompson’s arrangements is made much palatable by the fact that a degree of chemistry is inherent in the matchmaking endeavors. Chemistry is either there or it isn’t, and it’s an unpredictable factor that sometimes frustrates Thompson’s efforts. That said, it’s probably not a coincidence that the Mexican dermatologist–a woman who has means and choices–was not willing to be rushed to the altar. And it’s unfortunate that this film probably won’t produce a follow-up (after the fashion of the Michael Apted 7-Up series).

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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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A Fond Kiss (2004)

 “We’re not from Pakistan.”

Any film from director Ken Loach film deserves a look, and A Fond Kiss, although lighter fare than this director’s usual films, is not an exception. Based on the rocky romance between an Irish Catholic music teacher and a Scottish-Pakistani man, the film takes a good hard look at the difficulties faced when contemplating a relationship that crosses cultures and ethnicity.

Casim Khan (Atta Yaqub) is a young, modern Glaswegian. A DJ by night, he hopes to open his own club. He’s also a good loyal son, and lives at home with his parents and two sisters. His father emigrated from Pakistan decades early under conditions of extreme hardship, and now the family owns a small corner shop. An arranged marriage is planned for Casim and he’s due to be married in a matter of weeks to his cousin, Jasmine, when he meets and falls for Roisin Hanlon (Eva Birthistle), a teacher at his younger sister’s school.

The film does an excellent job of showing the clash between Casim and Roisin’s cultural expectations, and their failure to understand the pressures each bears when societal forces align against them. Casim straddles both Scottish and Pakistani cultures, and he successfully manages to negotiate each by leading a double life. The duality of Casim’s existence is depicted particularly well in a scene at a club. Casim’s western self is enjoying the evening at the club when he sees his sister trying to enjoy herself there too. Casim’s muslim standards kick into high gear and he orders his sister home. In one of the best scenes on the film, Casim and Roisin discuss religion. There are so many points of agreement, and yet they are also theologically poles apart. Each finds some aspects of the other’s religion absurd, and somehow this scene captures the difficulties this couple will face if they should decide to make the relationship more permanent.

In the hands of many directors A Fond Kiss would be standard predictable boy-meets-girl fare. But under Loach’s direction, the plot is elevated and thought provoking. As a result, this is a blisteringly honest film, and while Yaqub’s performance is a little weak, Eva Birthistle is wonderful. Flashes of humour soften the possibly harsh interpretation of Casim’s parents’ expectations adding a lighter element in what could so easily been an impossibly depressing film. Ken Loach is one of the most interesting directors working today, and if you enjoy this I also recommend Bread and Roses. In English and Punjabi with subtitles.

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