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The Syrian Bride

It's difficult to make a film about Israel and the Palestinians that won't be read largely as allegory for the political situation in the Middle East. Even a freewheeling soap opera like The Syrian Bride is heavy with potential meaning underlying every moment of story. In an area where so many personal decisions have to take political realities into account, every action has to be seen in terms of its larger meaning. But it's hard to deduce how co-writer/director Eran Riklis means viewers to take The Syrian Bride.

Clara Khoury stars as the quiet, pained center of an immense Druze family living in the Golan Heights. On the eve of her arranged marriage to a Syrian TV star she's never met, Khoury must say goodbye to her relatives, whom she will be unable to visit once she takes up Syrian citizenship. Angst-stricken and anxious, she watches her wedding become a reunion and a staging ground for old family misgivings. Her independent sister Hiam Abbass struggles in her stifling marriage to ineffectual traditionalist Adnan Trabshi. Khoury and Abbass' outcast brother Eyad Sheety returns to the country for the first time since marrying outside the faith eight years ago. A sleazy second brother returns from a questionable business trip, attempting to put off his creditors. Due to his politics, family patriarch Makram Khoury (Clara's real-life father as well as her cinematic one) is forbidden to travel to the Syrian border to see his daughter off.

Riklis spends most of his film simply establishing these characters plus half a dozen more, all romantically, genetically, or professionally linked in ways that sometimes make The Syrian Bride seem like a Middle Eastern Parenthood without the wacky sense of humor, or like the early stages of a Pedro Almodóvar farce. But Riklis plays it all straight and grim, centering his film on terrifically powerful, low-key personal moments, like Khoury wandering in her striking white dress along the sandy, blasted border, or sitting alone, staring at her husband on television, trying to glean some concept of what their life together might be like. Ultimately, The Syrian Bride becomes an overtly political movie, but with all its loose threads and random directions, it feels more like the pilot for an unmade miniseries. Much of the movie can be taken at face value, as the story of a family moving in a dozen directions at once. But the sudden ending removes that solid grounding, and leaves the cast, the movie, and the metaphor all equally adrift.

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