By John Esther
Eran Riklis's The Syrian Bride illustrates the ways in which geopolitics harnesses and harasses a family, with an emphasis on the plight of women who seek modernity in a culture inbred with tradition. Clara Khoury plays Mona, the bride to be. You would think she'd be happy on her wedding day, but she is not. Mona lives in the Majdal Shams, the largest Druze village in the Golan Heights, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967. The groom (Derar Sliman), whom Mona has never met, is a Syrian television star. Thanks to the Israel-Syrian disputes over land, Mona may never visit her family again and nor can they visit her once she crosses the border to be married.
Mona will be leaving behind her infamous dissident father (played by Clara Khoury's real-life father, Makram J. Khoury), her docile mother (Marlene Bajjali), her entrepreneurial brother Marwan (Ashraf Barhoum) and her other brother Hattem (Eyad Sheety) - who was banished from the village for marrying a Russian doctor (Evelyne Kaplun) and has returned for his sister's wedding. But, most importantly, Mona will leave behind her sister Amal (Hiam Abbass), whose own marriage is at a crossroads when she decides to go back to school, which is against the expectations of her husband (Adnan Trabshi).
If the personal emotional toll were not cumbersome enough for Mona, Amal and the rest of the family, the wedding takes place on the same day Bashar al-Assad comes to power in Syria. With this transition of power come new bureaucratic measures regarding crossing the borders - which nobody really knows about, much less understands. Will Mona get married after all?
A critical and commercial success in Israel, The Syrian Bride was nominated for seven awards by the Israel Film Academy: Best Director (Riklis), Screenplay (Riklis and Suha Arraf), Best Actor (Makram Khoury), Best Actress (Abbass), Best Supporting Actress (Clara Khoury), Best Editing (Tova Asher) and Best Costume Design (Inabl Shuki). Perhaps due to its politically sensitive content, The Syrian Bride was not nominated for Best Picture nor did it win a single award.
Born in Jerusalem, raised in Brazil, Canada, the United States and England, where he went to film school, Riklis, 51, has been living in Tel Aviv for the past 21 years. His previous films include On a Clear Day You Can See Damascus (1984), Cup Final (1991) and Borders (1999). I interviewed Riklis via telephone when he was visiting Los Angeles last December.
How did the idea of the film come about?
Basically it started as a documentary I did six years ago called Borders, which was about the borders of Israel. One of the things I shot there was a marriage taking place on the border of Israel and Syria; that image stuck with me. Two years later I found myself going back there.
Which of the characters do you identify with the most?
The central character was always Amal in terms of telling the story through the perspective of an oppressed woman. Beyond that, I love all my characters.
What are your political intentions behind the film?
I tried to do a democratic film in the sense of trying to convey a realistic and honest picture of what's going on in the Middle East. Let the audience judge where it wants to go. I think it's more of a human approach, really. Honestly, I think when you do a film in the Middle East, or anywhere in the world these days, it is political. Whatever statements you make have some kind of political implications.
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