Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve seen this movie before; the one you’re thinking of is the considerably livelier, better Rana’s Wedding, which took place in the West Bank occupied by Israel. This one takes place in the Golan Heights, also occupied by Israel since 1967. Here we have a different bride, different turf, and an entirely different ethnic group—the Druze, who don’t consider themselves Palestinian, aren’t considered Muslim by some Muslims, speak Arabic, and have their passports stamped as “nationality undefined.” The Druze are a small closed sect spread across the Middle East, lacking full citizenship in any country. Marriages are arranged within the community, and when a pretty young woman (Clara Khoury) is assigned to marry a clownish TV actor from Damascus (Derar Sliman)—a cousin she’s never met—the ceremony dictates that she be led down to the Syrian border, controlled by the U.N., where she will surrender her papers and never be allowed back into the Golan Heights to see her family. In other words: The wedding is also a kind of funeral.
It’s an absurd—and apparently true-to-life—situation for Israeli director Eran Riklis to explore, one that he uses not for shouting or shooting but for quieter moments of frustration. Nobody is happy in this nuptial no-man’s land—not the Israeli guards or bureaucrats assigned to stamp the marriage license; not the cute French and Norwegian U.N. women who have to shuttle the documents back and forth; and most certainly not the Salam family, whose two adult sons have already left the Golan. There are also two daughters, one the bride—who, like the groom, barely registers as a character; they’re like the plastic figurines atop the cake. Instead, the film begins and ends with the plight of eldest daughter Amal (Hiam Abbass), unhappily married within the community, mother to a teen daughter who already has a sweetheart, and now herself a late-life applicant to college in Israel.
The rest of the Salam family is confusing, and Riklis does a remarkably poor job explaining who’s who and why everyone is having an emotionally fraught reunion with somebody else. Patriarch Hammed is just out of an Israeli jail for pro-Syrian activities; his wife barely speaks and has no say in family matters (so it seems for most women in this culture); one son is shunned for having left the Golan to marry a Russian, and his roguish gap-toothed younger brother is some kind of wheeler-dealer in Italy.
The Syrian Bride is essentially an exercise in waiting, about the humiliations the Salam family endures at the interminable border ceremony, how they—and by extension all the Druze—are caught powerless between two rival powers who treat them with bored disrespect. The symbolism is apt, if not compelling. When one of the estranged sons rebukes his stern, stubborn father, “You treat me the same way the Israelis treat you,” they can finally resolve their differences with an awkward shoulder hug consistent with the movie’s stumbling coda. In real life, however, a political solution to the Golan will likely be much more explosive and dramatic to watch. (NR)