You don't have to watch Bridezillas to know that weddings are a pain in the ass: bickering relatives, histrionic brides, unreliable photographers, stubborn fathers unwilling to give away their daughters. But try comparing those inconveniences to a wedding in Golan Heights, the bitterly disputed area of land between Syria and Israel. Picking out the dress might be the major turning point in a Hollywood film, but in the new Israeli film The Syrian Bride, it's just the beginning. Writer-director Eran Riklis deftly uses one woman's arranged marriage to explore a multitude of conflicts, characters and customs. Though his film may look and feel like a Middle Eastern soap opera at times, the cast's humanity shines through in every busy, bustling frame.
The bride in question is Mona (Clara Khoury), a beautiful young Druze Arab woman who's been promised to a Syrian television actor she's never met. She's prepared to take the long walk through the border area controlled by Israel in order to get married, knowing full well that at the end of her walk she can never return to the Golan, and her relatives can only breach the divide by shouting to each other through megaphones. Though many brides have followed the exact same path before, this time it's a little different. The Israeli bureaucrats have decided to use Mona's wedding to exert some political influence: Her father (Makram J. Khouri) is a pro-Syrian activist who doesn't believe in the occupation of their homeland. When the big day comes, Mona is left stranded at the border for hours while various UN officials, soldiers and politicos create headaches with an endless series of runarounds.
The Syrian Bride is at heart a comedy of manners, with the absurd political struggles affecting Mona's very personal, emotional struggle to give up her family and homeland. But it's not particularly funny: A tense mood permeates every scene.
It's also finely tuned to character nuances and quirks: Even an uncaring Israeli officer admits at one point, "You Druze know how to throw a wedding." Riklis and his co-screenwriter Suha Arraf pile on characters until the film feels like it's going to buckle under the weight of them all; a teenage couple's intercultural romance, for example, could've been easily excised. But the filmmaking is confident enough to keep all of the characters in sharp focus, and when you see how each one comes into play in the touching finale, you're willing to forgive it its minor faults.
Like the regional feast prepared by the elderly women in the bride's family, the film itself is carefully crafted, delicately presented and well worth savoring.
In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 7-8, and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 9. Call 313-833-3237.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.