'Bride' and Prejudice in the Golan

Clara Khoury as a bride from the Golan Heights foiled by the insanity of border bureaucracy.
Clara Khoury as a bride from the Golan Heights foiled by the insanity of border bureaucracy. (Mongrel Media)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 24, 2006

In "The Syrian Bride," the fate of a wedding rests entirely on a border official's willingness to apply correction fluid to an exit visa. Unfortunately for the bride and groom, the would-be ceremony takes place in the Golan Heights, where even the seemingly trivial is political.

Directed by an Israeli with a Palestinian woman as his co-writer, "The Syrian Bride" explores the consequences -- sometimes comic, more often tragic and frustrating -- that can arise when political hostility reaches fever-pitch absurdity.

Mona (Clara Khoury), a Druze living in the Golan Heights, wants to marry Tallel (Derar Sliman), a TV sitcom star who lives in Syria. It's a hostile border: Golan, formerly part of Syria, is now under Israeli occupation, and Syria, which refuses to accept Israel's sovereignty, will allow Mona to enter only if she settles permanently.

For Mona -- who has made the painful choice to leave her Golan family forever -- the big day has arrived. She's surrounded by family and friends, and dressed in bridal white as she prepares to join Tallel, who's waiting on the other side. But her plans are derailed by the Syrian immigration officer who refuses to accept Mona's exit visa, which is in Hebrew, and his Israeli counterpart back on the Golan side who declines to erase the stamp.

Two families -- staring at each other across the no man's land between them -- watch with mounting despair as bureaucracy and political obstinacy conspire yet again to ruin their pursuit of happiness.

None personifies the conflicting exigencies of Golan life more than Hammed (Makram Khoury), the bride's father. (He happens to be the actress's off-screen father, too.) As a former political prisoner, he is forbidden to attend demonstrations or be anywhere near this border zone. But he wants to join a rally against Israel planned for that day, and he is bound and determined to see his daughter off at the checkpoint.

Also weighing on Hammed: His religious elders threaten to ostracize him if he walks to the checkpoint with his son Hattem (Eyad Sheety), who is married to an Israeli from Russia.

Then there's Amal (Hiam Abbass), Mona's sister, who has to contend with a husband who refuses to allow her to attend college (he's afraid of losing face) or permit their daughter to court a Druze whose father was an Israeli collaborator.

On one hand, the movie's guilty of schematic arrangement: Not unlike "Crash," it seems to line up every conceivable cultural, sexual or religious fender-bender it can for maximum conflict. But at the same time, producer-director-writer Eran Riklis and writer Suha Arraf use the device to reveal touching human complexity.

It's Amal's forthright nature -- she's not afraid to confront hypocrisy on any level or make a personal visit to that police chief -- that seems to reflect most closely the collective heart of both filmmakers and makes her the strongest and most affecting character. Like the movie, she -- hopefully -- makes us reconsider our preconceptions or, at the very least, appreciate that the truth is best understood through individuals, not abstract notions.

The Syrian Bride (98 minutes, at Landmark's Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema) is not rated and contains nothing objectionable. In Arabic, Hebrew and English with subtitles.

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