Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Wedding Song

(Le Chant des Mariees)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Muslim-Jew Friendship Tested in WWII Coming-of-Age Tale of Female Empowerment

16 year-olds Nour (Olympe Borval) and Myriam (Lizzie Brochere), best friends since childhood, grew up in adjoining apartments overlooking the same courtyard in Tunis. As kids, the fact that the former was raised Muslim and the latter as a Jew never really interfered with their intimate relationship. However, it is now 1942, and their respective religions are having a profoundly effect on the course of their lives.

Both have begun developing an interest in boys, but while Myriam was free to attend school and to explore her budding sexual urges, Nour finds herself housebound and resenting the restrictions being placed upon her by her orthodox culture. Plus, her parents have already arranged for her to marry her cousin, Khaled (Najib Oudghiri), even though he’s unemployed with not much on the horizon in the way of job prospects.

Then, in November, the Nazis invade Tunisia, and begin subjecting Jews to all manner of humiliation, ranging from the confiscation of their property to forced labor to execution. When Myriam’s mother (Karin Albou) is hit with a new tax just for being Jewish, she pressures her daughter to marry much-older Raoul (Simon Abkarian), a rich doctor.

Such a complicated scenario provides the setting for The Wedding Song, a character-driven drama directed by Karin Albou. What makes this tale of female empowerment so fascinating is that the story unfolds against the backdrop of the daily tension of World War II combat. So, we see Nour and Myriam struggling with typical coming-of-age issues, one minute, bombings raids or roundup of Jews, the next.

This makes Nour’s narcissistic complaint “Why do I have to wear a veil, while you don’t?” sounds like the superficial whine of a vain, spoiled teen, when you consider that Myriam has no idea whether she might be dragged off to a death camp at any moment. Curiously, Nour still somehow emerges as empathetic after the German occupation gradually subsumes Tunis entirely, turning the disintegrating metropolis into a godless dystopia where bombs can’t discriminate when it comes to color or creed.

Love in the time of Hitler!

Excellent (4 stars)
In French and Arabic with subtitles.
Running time: 100 minutes
Studio: Strand Releasing

No comments: