Unlike, say, the Yiddish cinema of yore and Tony Gatlif’s Romany jags, Palestinian films are nationless without being borderless—they self-define as cinema contre frontières and at the same time stand defiantly rooted to the spot. Hany Abu-Assad’s Rana’s Wedding has an insistent sense of place, living up to its subtitle, “Jerusalem, Another Day.” A dreamy yet matter-of-fact odyssey through the city’s eastern sector from the point of view of a self-interested Palestinian woman attempting to arrange an impulsive marriage, the movie grid-maps the world’s most contested slab of urban real estate with wide-open eyes. From the Temple on the Mount to the Al-Dahia roadblock, the only constant is Israeli soldiers, an alien force devoid of speech but primed to fire on schoolchildren. Which they do, in an oddly disaffected scene that reflects the movie’s muddled manner: Rana (Clara Khoury) is distracted from her search for her boyfriend by an infantry; adolescents face off, and once one of the rock-throwing kids takes a bullet, her briefly incensed reaction is to lamely hurl a stone herself and walk on. The incident is never mentioned again; instead, Rana answers her father’s ultimatum (come with him to Egypt or marry from a list of suitors) by tracking down her theater-director lover (Khalifa Natour) and insisting he marry her instead.
It’s tempting to read Abu-Assad’s view of his ostentatiously wealthy heroine and her debutante narcissism as satirical of a certain cross-section of modernized Palestinians amid the occupation, but the placid, earnest way her dilemma takes up emotional space in his film suggests half-bakery. Khoury—a sweet but immobile Sarah Jessica Parker double—is no advantage, and the director spends eternities just gazing at her pensive puss. Certainly, the portrait of Palestinian life as a series of maddening checkpoints interpolating huge swatches of time spent idling in traffic is vivid and frustrating on its own, if not expressively filmed—a course in Kiarostamian auto-dynamics might’ve helped.
Abu-Assad contrives a few absurdist moments, as when a plastic bag Rana carries through most of the movie is obliterated by an Israeli assault robot. Otherwise, Rana’s Wedding is kept at such a low boil you could mistake it for the work of a well-heeled tourist. That is, until the final tableau is scarfed by an outraged witness-poem by Mahmoud Darwish, a scalding coda to a different film.
“Director Hany Abu-Assad Subverts a Symbol of Oppression—Twice” by Anthony Kaufman