The friendships of adolescent girls are often defined by an explosive level of emotional intensity that makes every miscommunication, petty resentment, and everyday betrayal feel like a matter of profound importance. But what happens when that miscommunication, resentment, and betrayal play out against a backdrop of actual life-and-death urgency? That question is posited in Karin Albou’s The Wedding Song, which examines the friendship of a Muslim adolescent and a Jewish girl through the filter of World War II and a violent skirmish that grows closer with each passing day.
Doe-eyed Lizzie Brocheré stars as a young Jewish woman in Tunis, forced into a marriage of convenience to a wealthy older doctor when her mother needs to pay the harsh tax the occupying Nazi government has imposed on Jews. Olympe Borval stars as Brocheré’s equally doe-eyed best friend, a Muslim teenager preparing for her own arranged marriage to a lusty, handsome cousin. The unstinting demands of family, religion, and custom mold the girls’ lives, but when the Nazis begin cracking down on the Jewish population, they’re at the mercy of an altogether more sinister force.
Brocheré and Borval emerge as supremely passive protagonists, partially by design. They’re disempowered by their gender, religion, and age, and left to the mercy of fate. Since the screenplay doesn’t give Brocheré or Borval much dialogue, and the supporting characters tend to be broadly drawn caricatures, it falls upon the leads to carry the moody drama with their big, expressive eyes. The Wedding Song is most resonant as an exploration of the adolescent body; nowhere is Brocheré more vulnerable than in a morbidly compelling sequence where her family prepares her for her wedding night by painstakingly removing her pubic hair with wax. The bond between Brocheré and Borval is more physical than verbal; they often seem on the verge of a deep, soulful lip-lock, but since neither character is developed satisfactorily, it’s hard to develop a rooting interest in the survival of their friendship. Consequently, a would-be cathartic ending reaffirming their bond feels undeserved. It takes more than just the ominous tread of Nazi boots to infuse gravitas into this well-intentioned but dreary look at the female mind and body during wartime.