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Film Review

The Syrian Bride

(May 15, 2006) Rarely has so much humanity, compassion, humor and understanding been contained in a single film, but The Syrian Bride has it all. The Israel film maker, Eran Riklis, has turned out an Altman-esque film about the difficulties facing a Druze bride, Mona, from the Golan Heights, who must cross the border into Syria to marry her fiance. Once across the border, she can never return because Syria will not let her enter Israel with an Israeli stamp in her passport. So she has to leave her family for what will probably be a very long time, to marry a man she has never met. She lives in a Druze village, outwardly modern, but where tradition still rules. Mona is very close to her older sister, Amal (played by the stunning Arab/French actress Hiam Abbass), who is in a unhappy marriage, and the mother of two teenage girls. Her two brothers, one of whom has just returned from Russia with his Russian wife and child, and her other brother, a handsome, womanizing trader, have come home for the wedding. Mona's father, a political activist who has spent time in an Israeli prison, risks being arrested if he goes to the border crossing to see his daughter off. The father still has not forgiven his oldest son for marrying outside the clan and does not welcome him home. The family has hired an Israeli video photographer, who, in just a few sentences late in the film, reveals himself. Meanwhile, the groom, a Syrian television comic, is traveling from Damascus to the border crossing to marry his new bride. After an elaborate Druze wedding feast, Mona's family leaves for the border crossing, where bureaucracy and politics combine to frustrate everyone. And there are further surprises.

There are more characters here than in an Altman film, but the story is never confused. The director is a master at portraying his characters; we get to know them thoroughly, and love them. The actors are outstanding, all speaking in their native languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian. The cinematography is accomplished, with much of the filming very close. The overlay of humor never obscures the reality of life, and at its core, this is a very serious film. Riklis treats even the most unsympathetic character with great sympathy and understanding, yet it is not maudlin. The music is beautiful, and appropriate. I was totally swept away by this masterpiece of a film, and fully expect it to be one of the nominees for best foreign film. Or a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. But it has been a completely under the radar film, with little advertising. Playing at Opera Plaza, and will continue for an additional week until 5/25. I just cannot say enough good things about The Syrian Bride. Don't miss this absolute gem of a film.

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