Tuesday, 27 September 2011

DVD Catch-up: The Wedding Song

One of my favourite colours is pale blue, and nobody does it better than Tunis, a crumbling city of courtyards and alcoves, secrets and mysteries. Tunis in 1942 during the German occupation is the setting for this beautiful film about the friendship of two girls, Nour and Myriam. This is the second film from French writer/director/actress Karin Albou, who also plays the widowed mother of Myriam.

Nour, (Olympe Borval, in her first feature film) is Muslim and has been carrying out a clandestine romance with her cousin, Khaled (Najib Oudghiri). Her parents approve of him, but are unaware of their secrets hookups, and her father will only allow the marriage to go ahead once Khaled has found a full time work. Somewhat jealous of their relationship is Myriam (Lizzie Brochere, winning best actress at the Saint Jean De Luz Film Festival for this role). Nour's best friend and upstairs neighbour. She helps Nour escapes to her night time trysts on the rooftop with Khaled. The two girls have been friends forever and the fact that Myriam is a Jew has never come into the equation, but once the Nazis move into town things seem doomed.

It is a shame that arranged marriages are still a part of life for many women around the world, and things were no different here. Due to the hard facts of Myriam's poverty, she is forced into a marriage with Raoul (Simon Abkarian), a local Jewish doctor, which will enable her mother and her to live a comfortable life. It is interesting to see that in this case, the Muslim girl is marrying her true love, and the Jewish girl is being forced by her mother to marry someone much older. But these were desperate times. Albou, in the role of her mother Tita, attempts to rationalise the set up by claiming she also did not love her husband at first, but with time came to. In the story, she does not come across as a heartless mercenary, willing to sacrifice her daughter, just so that she can have food on her table, surely there was another alternative.

The harmony between the Muslims and the Sephardic Jews is shattered by the Nazis: in their desire to eliminate the world of Jews and take over North Africa, they distribute anti-Jews propaganda claiming they support Muslims. When Khaled does find work, it is with the nazis as an interpreter helping them rid the city of Jews. This further serves to drive a wedge between the closeness of Nour and Myriam, until at last Myriam gives into the marriage to Raoul.

Like many films set during wartime, there are the usual bombing scenes, and the night time dashes to the air raid shelters. What sets "The Wedding Song" apart from other films is the underlying sapphic element, as we see Myriam gazing longingly at Nour, and the combination of the Tunisian, French, Jewish and Nazi melting pot. This is a beautifully shot film, from the lingering images of Nour and Myriam, to the architecture of the Riad where they live, the visuals are impressive. Questions of self survival are posed, as each character must do what they can to adapt to their changing world. Nour accepts her future as wife and mother, but desires knowledge and read secretely, away from the watchful eyes of her parents. Khaled, like many young men at the time, is anti- French and desires liberation for Tunisia and its citizens. Myriam is outspoken in her hatred of Petain and the Vichy government, and this leads to her expulsion from school. The inequality and racism of the colonial French rulers is shown, contrasting with the harmony of the Hammam, where women of all religions gather together in peace.

The Wedding Song is available on DVD in the UK and has been released by Peccapics

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