The latest in what has been a surprising two-year run of provocative features made in and around Israel, The Syrian Bride is a tale of—what else?—tribal loyalties that is, above all else, an ensemble piece.
An extended Druze family, divided by the Israeli-Syrian border, holds a wedding that, before it brings anyone together, exposes nearly every fissure in the neighborhood as well as in their not exactly Muslim clan. There’s also the irrational harshness of the law. Not only is the marriage arranged, but once the bride (Clara Khoury) crosses into Syria with her new husband (a sitcom star she has only seen on television), she will never be permitted to return to Israel.
Directed by veteran Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis from a script he co-wrote with Palestinian TV journalist Suha Arraf, The Syrian Bride was shot on location in the majority Druze town of Majdal Shams, occupied by Israel since 1967, and set on the day that Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father as ruler of Syria. The situation is fraught. Israeli authorities worry about unrest in the Golan. The father of the bride (Makram J. Khoury, the real-life father of the “bride”) is a pro-Syrian activist out on parole and eager to demonstrate. Her brother has violated tribal taboo by marrying a Russian.
The Israelis ban the father, the father bans his estranged son—although the older sister, who is having her own problems with her traditional husband, manages to get them all to the zone between the borders. (Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass, most recently seen here as a terrorist’s mother in Paradise Now, projects her customary regal intensity in the role.) Riklis and Arraf compound this extreme situation with a series of nightmarish bureaucratic hassles and, courtesy of the U.N., some desperately ineffectual shuttle diplomacy.
The Syrian Bride has no particular visual style, but it exudes affection, for its characters and their culture as well as the unprepossessing beauty of the scrubby terrain that holds them in thrall. Like all wedding films, it’s essentially a comedy, albeit a sad one. In the key image, the bride is left alone to wait in no-man’s-land—the embodiment of forlorn hope and a powerful image of a Sabbath that may never arrive.