The Syrian Bride Eran Riklis

An intimate look at a private, insular culture by an outsider is always a risky prospect, but with The Syrian Bride, Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis manages to create a quietly powerful film that doesn't condescend to its subject matter or its audience. Co-written with Arab-Israeli screenwriter Suha Arraf, the story focuses on a day in the life of a single Druze family — members of an Arab sect practicing a secretive religion derived from Islam — and the complications surrounding the impending marriage of their youngest daughter, Mona, to a Syrian television star she has never met. The premise is simple yet heart-wrenching: these Druze, who live in the contested Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since the Six Day War of 1967, are primarily loyal to Syria and maintain "undefined" nationalities (whereas Druze in other parts of the country pledge allegiance to Israel, have citizenship and serve in the army). Therefore, once Mona crosses the border from the northern Druze village of Majdal Shams to meet her Syrian groom on the other side, she is effectively leaving her family forever, as she will never be allowed to return. Israeli films have the tendency to be heavy-handed when dealing with overtly (and inevitably) political themes, but Riklis manages to avoid this by focusing on one family's personal journey and how it works as a metaphor for the sense of displacement and uncertainty that pervades the region as a whole. While the dialogue is occasionally expository, the narrative is subtle and complex, and the characters are well drawn and universally familiar despite their unique circumstances. All the performances are excellent but Hiam Abbass stands out in particular as Mona's rebellious older sister Amal, a woman caught between her oppressive but well-meaning traditionalist husband and the freedom that an education will provide. The DVD includes an excellent commentary track consisting of a Q&A session between Riklis and Karen Durbin of The New York Times and a half-hour "behind the scenes" "making of" featurette. Both extras provide extremely useful added social and political context, though neither are necessary in order to understand or enjoy this film. (Mongrel Media)