Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Four Middle-Eastern Weddings

Marriages are a pretty complicated affair. The decision to spend one's life with another person can be quite a soul searching experience. After one crosses that hurdle, in some cultures the families form the next barrier. Although in some cases, the family issues override the relationship between two people. Still these two challenges form the crux of what a majority of wedding related Indian and American films deal with. But two recent Middle Eastern films, The Syrian Bride & Rana's Wedding, show that familial & relationship issues in marriages are much easier compared to physical check points and borders erected by political situations.

Political Boundaries

In The Syrian Bride, the border crossing causes quite a problem. The bride Mona (Clara Khoury), who is from Golan heights, is stuck along with her family in a no-man's land while her husband waits with his family on the other side. The border complications arise due to the ownership of Golan Heights. Israel occupied the area after the 1967 war and considers it part of their nation, while Syria still believes it is theirs. In the film, a few Israeli politicians come up with a new scheme to legalize their occupation. They decide to start stamping an Israeli exit visa for people crossing Golan Heights into Syria and use Mona as a guinea pig by stamping her passport. If the Syrian side accepts the stamped passport, then the practice will become a standard and deemed as official Syrian recognition of Golan Heights as Israeli territory. In order to help with Mona's passport clearance, a U.N observer moves across the border with Mona's passport. But Mona's passport is rejected on the Syrian side because the Syrian guard says that since Golan Heights is part of Syria, no visa is required to move within one country. So the neutral U.N observer tries to get the Israeli side to remove the visa. But since it is already late on Thursday evening, the ministers and politicians in both Israel and Syria have left for home. Finally, after a lot of debate, the U.N observer manages to get the Israeli side to use white-out to cover up the visa. When she goes to the Syrian side, the guard has left and is replaced by another man on shift. But the new guard is bothered by the big white-out mark in the passport and refuses to let Mona through. During this visa tangle, both families are getting stressed and frustrated, because so much hinges on the wedding as the groom is a high profile actor in Syria. While Mona's family are anxious by the waiting, the extra time they have with Mona are precious as well because once Mona crosses the border into Syria, she will never be able to return to see her family as they stay in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.

Clara Khoury also plays the lead role in Rana's Wedding, a film where Israeli check points in occupied Palestine territory play a troublesome role in her wedding decisions. Rana gets a call from her father who wants her to get married from a chosen list or leave the country with him by 4 pm the same day. However, her father does not know about Rana's boyfriend. So Rana rushes to find her love who is on the other side of various checkpoints and wants him to marry her. But as she is rushing across checkpoints, she is wondering if she truly loves her boyfriend. She only has a few hours to map out her entire life and her task is not made easy because of the various hurdles in reaching her boyfriend. The camera gives us a glimpse of life in the ancient city of Jerusalem and how even the simplistic tasks become complicated under occupation. Rana's Wedding does justice to the beauty of Jerusalem and shows it in all its splendour.

To marry or not to marry

Just like as in Rana's Wedding, the lead character (Tariq played by Nabil Saber) in A New Day in Old Sana’a is unsure whether he should go ahead with his marriage. His indecision arises when early one morning he believes he sees his bride-to-be dancing in the wedding dress he gifted her. But as it turns out, the woman in the dress was someone else. So Tariq is troubled because he prefers to be with a free spirited woman like the one he saw in the wedding dress but he cannot ignore tradition in rejecting his chosen bride. Beautifully shot in the Yemeni city of Sana’a, the film is a light hearted look at love and myths that haunt the ancient city.

Beauty takes a stroll

There are 5 women debating their love and relationships in the sweet and sexy Lebanese co-production Caramel. Four of the women work in a beauty salon and their day is packed with gossip about their relationships and life in Beirut. The women also support each other and share a nice bond which comes in handy for situations when things get difficult. For example, Nisrine (Yasmine Elmasri) has a secret that may derail her wedding. Her fiancee is not aware that she is not a virgin, so she is afraid what will happen when he finds out but luckily her friends come to her aid. The best moments of the film surround the character of Layale played by the film director Nadine Labaki. Layale is having an affair with a married man and she struggles by constantly debating whether her lover will leave his wife or not. On the other hand a young police officer, who goes around the neighbourhood issuing traffic tickets, is smitten with Layale. It is a real treat to watch Layale wander the city or go about her daily routines because her beauty makes her such a charming character to observe.

Ratings out of 10:

  • The Syrian Bride (2004, co-production, Eran Riklis): 9
  • Rana's Wedding (2002, co-production, Hany Abu-Assad): 9
  • Caramel (2007, Lebanon co-production, Nadine Labaki): 8.5
  • A New Day in Old Sana’a (2005, UK/Yemen, Bader Ben Hirsi): 7.5
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