Cinema Signal:

The Druze in the Middle East:
Their Faith, Leadership, Identity and Status

. "The Syrian Bride" (aka, "Kala Ha-Surit, Ha")

Obviously, not all marriages are alike, and films about how one is performed in a country foreign to our own is likely to be fascinating in its differences. When Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis collaborated with Israeli writer Suha Arraf to dramatize the problems peculiar to a taking of vows in their part of the world, the accounting of it demonstrates more than a romance or a ritual. This is a marriage subject to intercountry treaties, conflicting national laws, and entrenched border crossing policies. At the same time, in its comedic overtones, it's more "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" than the deadly "No Man's Land".

A marriage has been arranged between beautiful Mona (Clara Khoury), a Druze woman residing in the Golan Heights, and Tallel (Derar Sliman) a Syrian TV star based in Damascus. The pair has never met but the attraction is mutual.

The Druze are a small, distinct religious community based mostly in the Middle East, whose religion resembles Islam, but is influenced by Greek philosophy and other religions. The irony and sadness of this union comes from the hostile Syrian law that will prevent Mona, once in Syria, from ever returning to the Golan. When her parents "gives her away" to her Syrian groom, it's forever. Visits and communication are limited to calls across a wide no-man's space at the border, via loudspeaker.

The occasion, then is bitter-sweet as Mona deals with the emotional meaning of permanent separation from her family while happily anticipating the arrival of Tallel with his family to the Syrian side of the border for the actual wedding ceremony. But, as all bridal requirements are made, as she's fitted with a splendid white gown, as every official requirement for the event is met, and as the wedding party proceeds to the border gate, more procedural barriers are going up that involve a new Israeli passport policy that will meet with total Syrian rejection. Here, bureaucracy reigns.

Everytime it seems that one problem is solved, a new one presents itself, bringing humor and irony. But taste for it declines with its predictability and we become restless with the repetition.

Two major subplots derive from Mona's brother Hammed's return home after an 8 year absence to face the wrath and disownership of his father for marrying a Russian woman; and as Mother (Marlene Bajjali) asserts her right to enjoy the pursuit of a career against her domineering husband. A minor subplot focuses on Mona's flamboyant brother Marwan (Ashraf Barhom) and his womanizing attempts to woo one or another of the UN's Swiss officers. One of them will play the part of intermediaries between the Israeli and Syrian border officials.

All players demonstrate a high standard of thespian skill and experience, with Clara Khoury suggesting the kind of presence, beauty and emotional depth that could bring her wide career attention. Director Riklis' eye for casting is very fine and, if he's to be criticized for anything, it would be for the tendency to overdo his emotional moments, which descend to melodrama a bit too often. Family relationship are also a challenge to keep track of in the early going, but the familiarity that's felt for the personalities, the petty and major familial carpings and complaints develop into identification with the characters that's essential to the flow of situational humor.

While it's politics that creates the physical realities, they're kept as an underlying cause rather as a subtle message or political tract. Of course, there are always those who would take any depiction of Middle Eastern society as unfair to one side or the other. Riklis distracts our attention from the heavy issues with a relatively light human drama of irony and acceptance. He has made a piece of entertainment for a worldwide audience, which commends the film and its maker. Made in 2004, it's as enjoyable a piece of cultural satire as any that's come out of this highly troubled region.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Clara Khoury as Mona
The Syrian Bride
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