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Seventeen-year-old Rana (Clara Khoury) has been given a choice in the Arab-language Palestinian film Rana's Wedding (2002). She can stay in occupied East Jerusalem and choose from a list of potential husbands hand selected by her father Abu Siad (Zuher Fahoum). Or she can travel to Egypt with her father, where she can finish her studies.
But the headstrong Rana, who is in love with a Palestinian man who runs a theater in Ramalla, has her own idea about her future. Armed with her cell phone and sheer determination, she travels from a relatively peaceful Jerusalem to cross the border into the chaotic, dirt-road, violence-marred West Bank where her theater director lover Khalil (Khalifa Natour) has been trapped for the night after a bombing made his return to Jerusalem impossible.
Once Rana locates Khalil the pair must locate a registrar who can marry them and make it back across the border to convince Rana's father of the righteousness of their union. It's not an easy task, either emotionally or physically, with the number of closed borders and the sheer difficulty of travel. Rana's father has a definite sense that Rana's best match will be with a lawyer, engineer or doctor--in other words someone financially stable enough to provide for his daughter. As an artistic, free-spirited theater director Khalil can't offer the same kind of security to Rana even if he can offer his love.
Against very difficult odds Rana and Khalil work to be married in keeping with the deadline Rana's father has given them, of 4 p.m., when he will fly to Egypt. Rana's Wedding is not only a thrilling race against time, but director Hany Abu-Assad's film is about the sheer difficulty of life for those trapped on the wrong side of the border in the violence-plagued Middle East.
As Rana travels from Jerusalem and crosses the border into Palestine for the first time she watches children, some of them pitifully young, throw rocks at the Israeli soldiers whose response is to fire their guns directly into the crowd of children. The Israeli soldiers are depicted throughout the film as stony faced and impervious, staring down Rana or the various Palestinians who approach them. It's up to people crossing the border to somehow race between the children and the soldiers without being injured in the fray. Increasingly angered by what she sees Rana sprints between those warring groups, picks up a stone and throws it at the soldiers.
Part of director Abu-Assad's ambition is to show the reality of life in Palestine through Rana's eyes. At one point, in a fit of disgust over not being able to contact Khalil on her cell, Rana shrieks and shakes her phone: a nearby group of armed Israeli soldiers cock their guns and train them on the girl until she shows them her cell phone. The threat of violence or actual violence is everywhere, as when Rana finds herself standing on a street when a Palestinian funeral procession passes by. In another scene Rana stops at a friend's home to pick up her wedding dress. But directly outside the home's window, another Palestinian family is having its home leveled by bulldozers. Setting the terms of the film's movement between hope and hopelessness embodied in this young, sensitive protagonist, Rana laments, "They're demolishing houses on the day I want to build one."
The message of Abu-Assad's film is clear: it is a profound struggle to harbor hope and a belief in the future amidst such despair and violence. Yet Rana does, proving in her very gesture of wanting to marry Khalil that the future is very much on her mind. Avoiding political didacticism by making love and not politics the crux of the film, Abu-Assad instead shows how many impediments there are to love -- and to living; we see this in the occupied territories, from surveillance cameras that monitor the every move of citizens on the street (and from which Rana hides her face in a moment of sadness) to the heavily armed soldiers who are visible in almost every corner of the city. Also evident in the film, is Rana's point of view as a young woman chafing under the control of her father who is determining her fate by deciding who she can or cannot marry. In moments of doubt about her imminent marriage, Rana worries that life with her new husband Khalil carries the same threat of patriarchal control.
Though Rana's Wedding ends on a happy note, and provides fascinating glimpses of some of the rituals of a Muslim wedding, there is no denying the element of critique that defines the film especially in the enraged words of "State of Siege" by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish read over the film's emotionally moving closing shot.
The Netherlands-based Palestinian director Abu-Assad was a former line producer for director Elia Suleiman whose Divine Intervention (2002) also focused on Palestinian lovers from Jerusalem and Ramallah separated by a checkpoint. After Rana's Wedding Abu-Assad went on to direct the 2005 drama about childhood friends reunited for a suicide bombing, Paradise Now which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won a 2006 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and an Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film. He is currently at work on the English language crime thriller The Courier starring Mickey Rourke.
Alternately titled Another Day in Jerusalem, Rana's Wedding takes the point of view of the Arabs trapped within the occupied territories. Writing in The Boston Globe critic Janice Page observed "Rana and Khalil are the dramatic excuse to view Jerusalem and nearby Ramallah through the eyes of Palestinians under siege, and their sympathetic situation provides a convenient means to draw parallels between the bureaucratic struggles of a couple and a people."
The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday remarked "it portrays with equal parts lyricism and unsentimental candor the leaps of faith it takes to act without knowing all the answers.
Producer: Bero Beyer, George Ibrahim
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Screenplay: Liana Badr, Ihab Lamey
Cinematography: Brigit Hillenius
Music: Bashar Abd Rabbou, Mariecke van der Linden
Film Editing: Denise Janzee
Cast: Clara Khoury (Rana), Khalifa Natour (Khalil), Ismael Dabbag (Ramzy), Walid Abed Elsalam (Marriage Official), Zuher Fahoum (Abu Siad, Rana's father), Bushra Karaman (Rana's grandmother).
by Felicia Feaster