It's not surprising that Eran Riklis' The Syrian Bride, winner of the audience award at nearly every festival at which it was shown, captivated US critics. Although the arranged marriage of a Druze bride and the bureaucratic hassles that threaten to stop the wedding might seem like an obscure subject, there is something about the characters' dilemmas that transcends boundaries.
Riklis and his co-screenwriter Suha Arraf managed to tap into the universal dimensions of the situation in a way that few Israeli filmmakers have. When I interviewed Arraf last year, she told me, "This story could take place anywhere there is a bride and a border." The schlubby Israeli wedding photographer who tries to soothe the bride's nerves; the initially inflexible Israeli official who stops at an Arab-run fruit stand to buy apples; the brother who is having a romance with a UN workers; the Israeli policeman who refuses to allow the bride's father to attend the wedding but graciously offers the bride's sister coffee; the older Druze housewives who make fun of the beautiful Russian doctor who is married to the bride's older brother: by focusing on the specifics, the movie rings true.
While I'm not sure how many of these details resonated in America, Stephen Holden of The New York Times, who compared the movie to No Man's Land (the story of two enemy soldiers tied to a land mine in Bosnia), wrote: "Notwithstanding the movie's complex politics, the Salmans could be any family gathered for a ceremonial occasion. The excellent ensemble provides a finely shaded group portrait of a clan whose internal tensions are exacerbated by politics. The movie's final moments suggest that only a brave leap into the unknown can begin to untangle the mess." J. Hoberman of The Village Voice expressed similar sentiments when he wrote: "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."
With the recent success of the Israeli documentary Strike!, which focuses on labor politics at a factory, you might want to check out another documentary on a similar subject, Sewing for Bread (2002), which is showing at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Monday at 9:30 p.m. Directed by Doron Tsabari and Julie Schles, it tells the story of the women of the Ramon Sewing Factory, who responded to being fired by barricading themselves and their families in the factory and later buying it. Schles recently directed the feature film Joy, about a depressed young woman who joins a reality TV show. The film was shown at the Jerusalem Film Festival last summer, and now it's going to be opening throughout the country. It is having its premiere at the Jerusalem Cinematheque at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Schles will be present.
ANOTHER ISRAELI documentary, Daniel Menkin's 39 Pounds of Love, which has been shortlisted in the US Academy Award documentary category, will be shown at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. It focuses on a disabled animated film artist who goes on a quest to find the doctor who told his parents he would never live to adulthood.
As part of its tribute to Mexican cinema, the Jerusalem Cinematheque is showing The Exterminating Angel (1962) tonight at 10 p.m. - one of the movies Luis Bunuel made in Mexico while he was in exile from Franco's Spain. It tells the story of guests who, for mysterious reasons, cannot leave a dinner party. It was a theme he varied years later for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, a much lighter film about three couples who want to get together for a dinner party but can't. Although it isn't considered as much a masterpiece as some of Bunuel's other films, such as Viridiana, Los Olvidados and Un Chien Andalou, it is nevertheless one of his major works. Critic and essayist Phillip Lopate wrote of the movie (which was the opening attraction of the first New York Film Festival in 1963): "Thrown together without food or water and held there by an insane power of inertia, the guests resort to violence, pettiness and suicide. Every facet of their degeneration is illustrated with loving irony by Bunuel.... Perhaps it is nothing but human failure and weakness that holds them there, but on the other hand, it may very well be a fierce avenging angel who, as the title suggests, has come to exterminate them all."