While most weddings are fraught with anxiety, Mona's not-so-happy day is a never-ending hair-puller, a microcosm of all her family's troubles, as well as a tough lesson in absurd geopolitics. Mona belongs to the Druze community, in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Her family has arranged a marriage to a Syrian man she's never met. They are to meet at an Israeli-Syrian checkpoint, and once Mona, dressed in her bridal finery, crosses the border, she will become a Syrian and can never return to her homeland.
This literal fence is just one restriction characters face in Eran Riklis' ensemble drama The Syrian Bride, which, over the course of one day, examines many borders -- cultural, political and emotional. Some boundaries prove elastic; others can be broken or traversed, though often at a price. Nothing is clear-cut: One person's border may be another's path to freedom. Even the "official" border that traps the wedding party between Israel and Syria isn't universally acknowledged as such.
Complicating Mona's wedding is her messy family, including her father, Hammed (Makram J. Khoury), a pro-Syria activist recently released from Israeli prison; Marwan (Ashraf Barhoum), Mona's hustling brother, now living Europe; brother Hattem (Eyad Sheety), long estranged from the family after marrying a Russian; and her older sister Amal (Hiam Abbass), wise with the bitterness of her unhappy marriage and her restrictive life.
Riklis, an Israeli, co-wrote the story with Suha Arraf, a Palestinian-Israeli journalist familiar with both the Druze community and the conflicts faced by contemporary women like herself immersed in a traditional Arab culture. While Bride isn't overtly feminist, women are the film's strongest characters -- pragmatic, big-picture sorts who are willing to risk change. Much of the men's "strength" can be read as self-defeating intractability. In the bustle of the day, we learn the least about Mona (portrayed with quiet dignity by Clara Khoury), who appears resigned, an actor in a life out of her control.
Riklis has called Bride an "opsimistic" story -- opsimism being a mixture of pessimism and optimism necessary for survival in today's Middle East. Thus, he chooses to keep the story low-key, intercutting the seriousness of the day with dry humor. With its large cast, Bride proffers multiple viewpoints -- Israeli, Syrian, Druze and, by way of U.N. personnel, European -- without becoming a polemic, and the story ably demonstrates that there is stubbornness and accommodation on all sides. Bride's tale of uneasy nuptials ultimately becomes an apt metaphor for the region: In any marriage, even a less-than-perfect one, success is based on a mutual desire to co-exist. In Arabic, Hebrew and other languages, with subtitles.