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In Majdal Shams, the largest Druze village in Golan Heights on the Israeli-Syrian border, the Druze bride Mona is engaged to get married with Tallel, a television comedian that works in the Revolution Studios in Damascus, Syria. They have never met each other because of the occupation of the area by Israel since 1967; when Mona moves to Syria, she will lose her undefined nationality and will never be allowed to return home. Mona's father Hammed is a political activist pro-Syria that is on probation by the Israeli government. His older son Hatten married a Russian woman eight years ago and was banished from Majdal Shams by the religious leaders and his father. His brother Marwan is a wolf trader that lives in Italy. His sister Amal has two teenager daughters and has the intention to join the university, but her marriage with Amin is in crisis. When the family gathers for Mona's wedding, an insane bureaucracy jeopardizes the ceremony. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Middle East Conflict Personalized by a Family Dramedy About an Arranged Marriage
This deceptively modest 2004 film lingers in the memory because of the bigger sociopolitical context that Israeli director Eran Riklis provides in setting his story in the Golan Heights, an area occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967. Over the course of one day, the story revolves around an extended Druze family in the northern village of Majdal Shams where they are preparing for the wedding of youngest daughter Mona. The catch is that she has never met the groom, a distant relative who happens to be a big Syrian TV personality in Damascus. It sounds like the source of comedy hijinks, but there is a sad undertone because once married, Mona officially becomes Syrian and cannot return home to her family.
The intended couple, however, is not the focus as much as the family dynamics that become ignited by the wedding. The patriarch is Hammed, a political activist on probation, and he has two sons - Hattem, who has been cast out by the conservative religious cabal for leaving the country and marrying a Russian woman, and Marwan, who provides the comedy relief as a womanizing salesman. The glue of the family, however, is provided by eldest sister Amal, who defiantly stands up to the men in her family and wants to get her bachelor's degree in Haifa. The first hour deals mainly with the standard pre-wedding confusion, though it happens to take place on the same day that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father, but the last half-hour takes place entirely at the Israel-Syria border crossing where the officials from both countries refuse to cooperate with a negotiating Red Cross worker in allowing Mona to enter Syria.
With its primarily somber tone, this is no Middle Eastern derivative of "My Big, Fat Greek Wedding", but Riklis and co-screenwriter Suha Arraf supply genuine warmth toward the characters and bring immediacy and credibility to the personal situation at hand. The acting is solid with Hiam Abbass the standout as Amal. There are nice turns by Makram Khoury as Hammed, his real-life daughter Clara as Mona, Eyad Sheety as Hattem and Ashraf Barhom who steals scenes as the gap-toothed Marwan. Special mention should be made for Michael Wiesweg's expert cinematography which perfectly captures the mostly sun-baked terrain. This is a case where the 2006 DVD package from Koch Lorber is invaluable for the context it provides to the movie's story. The making-of featurette, an extensive interview with Riklis and his accompanying commentary all help considerably in understanding the political situation that both drives and reflects the wedding preparation complications. Also included is the original trailer as well as the U.S. version.
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