THE SYRIAN BRIDE (Ha-Kala Ha-Surit)
Directed by Eran Riklis (2004)
After Israel took the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war, 17,000 ethnic Druze, whose people had been living in the area for centuries, suddenly found their lives fractured and their families divided by an impassable border. In spite of substantial economic and educational gains made under Israeli rule, the Druze of the Golan still consider themselves to be Syrians living under Israeli occupation. They do not intermingle with Israelis, refuse to hold Israeli passports, and live in their own villages. A French/German/Israeli co-production, The Syrian Bride tells the story of one such family as they prepare to attend their daughter's wedding on the Syrian border. It is primarily a comedy yet it is also a poignant drama that takes no sides but attempts to put the political turmoil in the region into a humanistic context.
Mona (Clara Khoury), a young Druze bride is to be wed to Syrian TV-star Tallel (Derar Sliman) from Damascus, a man she has never met. Since neither country recognizes the other diplomatically, once the bride crosses the border to Syria, she will never be allowed to return to Israel and her wedding day, usually a day of great joy, may be one of her saddest. While the film tells us much about the sad realities of the political fragmentation in the Middle East, it is also a story with social and cultural ramifications. Mona's sister Amal (Hiyam Abbas), whose expressive face frames the film's beginning and end, is stuck in an unhappy marriage. She wants to attend Haifa University but is thwarted by her husband Amin (Adnan Trabshi) who is afraid of losing face in the village and of relinquishing "control".
Mona's father Hammed (Makram Khoury), a pro-Syrian agitator known to Israeli police, is forbidden to travel to the Syrian border to say goodbye to his daughter. He harbors resentment and refuses to welcome his son Hattem (Eyad Sheety) and his Russian wife home from Moscow because he broke family tradition and moved away eight years ago. Another son, Marwan (Ashraf Barhom), a businessman, is welcomed by the family but is rejected by an angry former girlfriend, a French Red Cross worker (Julie-Anne Roth), who works in the village. Mona's character is mostly symbolic and she has little to say, yet the story of the film is written on her face and her lack of dimensionality is more than compensated for by the depth of the supporting characters, particularly Hattem and Amal.
As these conflicts bubble under the surface, the situation becomes increasingly absurd as the wedding is threatened by bureaucratic intransigence on the border checkpoints between Israel and Syria. Mona's passport has an Israeli stamp on it and, according to Syrian regulations, anyone carrying a passport with an Israeli stamp is denied entry to Syria. Neither Israeli nor Syrian customs officials seem to know what to do and the prospective bride and groom are stuck in a no-man's land, reduced to communicating via bullhorns pressed against locked gates. The Syrian Bride may sound like an exercise in absurdity bordering on farce, yet for the family who may never see their child again, it is a drama of high seriousness. Whether you consider The Syrian Bride to be an allegory, black comedy, family drama, or political statement, the image of a girl sitting alone in a white wedding dress stuck between impenetrable barriers is one that remains.