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The Syrian Bride

An Arranged Wedding Spawns a Tense Family Affair

Is it possible to be typecast as a crestfallen, border-crossing bride-to-be? Apparently so. Take Clara Khoury, for instance. In Rana's Wedding, her 2004 debut, Khoury played a woman whose wedding is jeopardized by legal hassles at the border of Jerusalem and the Palestinian city of Ramallah. Now, she's back in The Syrian Bride, attempting to cross the military checkpoint at Golan Heights, a disputed territory along the border of Israel and Syria. Clearly, this is a common problem in the Middle East.

It's certainly a problem for Mona (Khoury), who is hoping to enter Syria in time for her arranged marriage to Tallel (Derrar Sliman), a television star she's never met. No matter. Mona is determined to take a chance on her ordained groom, and before long she's embroiled in a bureaucratic mess. The Syrians will not accept her because her passport has been stamped by Israeli border officials -- despite the fact that she is traveling from Golan Heights, a region the Syrians consider their own. (Naturally, the Israelis disagree.) So it's up to Mona to plead her case to a pair of border officials who aren't particularly inclined to help her. In the meantime, Tallel and his family stew in the sun, waiting for a bride who may never come.

Caught in the middle of this red-tape madness is Mona's own family, which is racked with internal strife. Her father, Hammed (Makram J. Khoury), is a recently released political prisoner who risks arrest by accompanying his daughter to the Israeli border. Her two brothers arrive for the ceremony, though they're not exactly welcomed with open arms by Hammed, a rigid traditionalist who has never forgiven his eldest son for marrying a Russian doctor. Then there's Amal (Hiam Abbas), Mona's independent-minded sister who plans to attend the Israeli university at Haifa over the objections of her domineering husband. Like her brothers, Amal has little use for outdated social codes, and she's not terribly concerned that her continuing education might represent a threat to her husband's manhood.

Mona is conflicted, of course, because she may never see her family again after crossing the Syrian border. This is one of the bureaucratic crosses she must bear, and it certainly adds to the drama that's at the heart of The Syrian Bride, but it's entirely conceivable that Mona and her family might one day meet again at some location far removed from the ethnic tensions of Golan Heights. And though the prospect of a missed wedding looms large, it's worth remembering that Mona and Tallel have never met. Will their lives be ruined if her passport problem cannot be resolved? Doubtful.

Still, The Syrian Bride is an intriguing portrait of a dysfunctional family divided by pride, politics and prejudice. (This phenomenon is hardly exclusive to the Middle East.) Driven by a universally strong ensemble cast, it presents a generation of young adults moving away from the antiquated values of their parents, and the bitter struggle that ensues. It's not always a pretty picture, but it's very hard to turn away.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars