The wedding referred to in the film’s title is that of the son of a Galilee village headman, or Mukhtar, Abu-‘Adel. The latter is forced to ask the Israeli military governor to lift the curfew so that the wedding may be held. The military governor agrees, on condition that the ceremony is concluded within 24 hours and that he and his officers are invited to attend.
My discussion of the film is in no way a professional cinematographic critique. It seems to me that technically the film is excellent. The script is interesting; the plot captivating; the background music, dancing and rhythmic songs are marvellous. And the story proceeds inexorably towards a climax ‒ the consummation of the marriage ‒ in a gripping fashion. In short, it is an enjoyable film, strongly recommended not merely because it represents a landmark in the Palestinian cinema.
The film, however, must be seen as a serious attempt not only to portray a traditional Arab wedding in Galilee, but also to grapple with important issues of Palestinian Arab society. These issues, set against a background of folklore and peasant culture, include the relationship between the Israeli military authorities and Palestinian villagers; sex, honour, shame and virginity in traditional Arab society; male authority, patriarchy and domination.
To begin with, Michel Khleifi must be commended for his pioneering efforts to deal with complex and taboo issues. Yet, in its handling of the politics of a Galilee village, I found the film very simplistic, one-dimensional, trivializing, and its characters stereotypical. It falls to convey a genuine sense of the subtle and multi-dimensional reality of Galilee village politics. The film posits an imaginary situation: Israeli military government in Galilee in 1987. Hence the need for a permit to hold the wedding. In fact, the military administration in Galilee was formally abolished in 1966. Of course, this is not to say that the political reality under Israeli civilian rule is rosy or that there is no national oppression of Palestinians within the Green Line. On the contrary, the authorities’ all-pervasive apparatus of repression and control is very much in evidence: the presence of the secret service (Shin Beth) is endemic, the notorious Emergency Regulations are still applied, and Arab lands are continually confiscated.
The film’s political focus is an attempt by a few young men from the village to assassinate the military governor in revenge for the torture one of their comrades. In the event, the plot is foiled, due both to the surveillance of plain-clothes Shin-Beth agents and, more importantly, to the intervention of a leading villager, the bridegroom’s uncle, who had opposed the invitation of the military governor. One clear message is that militant resistance is pointless and counter-productive. A second, no less important, point strongly emphasised by Khleifi is that the conflict is by and large emotionally motivated and erratically conducted. Khleifi appears to regard the political resentment and resistance of the Galilee youth as childish games. In order to trivialize and “unmask” the politics of the conflict between Palestinian villagers and Israeli soldiers, he sets up a scene in which a female Israeli soldier attending the wedding is magically and metaphysically transformed by shedding her uniform and donning a traditional, beautifully embroidered Arab dress.
It should be pointed out that at the centre of the film is an “orientalist” fantasy of female sensuality. The takhrij, or incantation, a traditional mystical ritual conducted by aged Arab women is converted in the film into a sensual message that transforms the tough Israeli soldier into a “Palestinianized” sensual female.
While there is certainly a strong point to be made about the human in each Palestinian and Israeli and the significance of emotions and individual desires and needs, it is nonetheless essential to avoid reducing the real conflict to a confused plethora of feelings and sensations. The Palestinian-Zionist/Israeli conflict remains at heart a real political conflict about land, homeland, political identity and national survival. Feelings of hatred and resentment are not the sum total of the conflict, and consequently the “humanization” of Israeli soldiers is too serious a subject to be dealt with in a metaphysical and romantic way. The vision of overcoming the divide and resolving the tragic conflict must not ignore the socio-political realities.
Moreover, unlike their portrayal in the film, the Palestinians of the Galilee ‒ who are Israeli citizens ‒ are well-informed, politicized and wellorganized. They have also engaged in various forms of organized resistance during the last 40 years. By and large, their resistance has been peaceful and unreported, yet it has had its own radical highlights, strikes, demonstrations against land confiscations. But the land issue, for example, which is at the heart of the villagers’ concern, receives only a passing mention in the film, which appears to gloss over the real issues affecting the daily life of the Galilee Palestinians. Rather, Khleifi seems to take refuge in “orientalist” stereotypes of female sensuality and male sexual fantasies.
Yet if politics is too serious to be left to politicians, so the issue of sex in Arab society is too serious to be left to orientalists. Sex is a very problematic and sensitive subject in Arab society. It is not, however, as the film tries to portray, lurking in every corner of the Arab village. The sexuality and permissive sensuality of the film is certainly unrealistic and misleading.
Two points must be made about Khleifi’s treatment of this subject. First, a general one: the women are, as usual, portrayed at the centre of sensuality, with lingering semi-pornographic shots of the naked female body. This is not only degrading to women but will cause insuperable difficulties in the distribution of the film in the Arab World.
The second, related point is the film’s conscious and deliberate appeal to Western audiences. It has already won a European prize and is likely to win more; but it is unlikely to be shown even to an enlightened Arab audience in Nazareth, Khleifi’s home town. The Arab cinema has yet to address itself to the daunting issues of sex and honour in a realistic and progressive way, which however takes into account the prejudices of its natural audience.
The film’s climax centres around the impotence of the bridegroom, which is attributed to his oppression by his authoritarian father, the Mukhtar, and, to a lesser extent, to the presence of the military governor at the wedding. While male authoritarianism and domination is a major issue, with which the film could have dealt seriously, the overweening arch-typically oppressive father common in Arab society is not in fact presented here. On the contrary, Abu-‘Adel, though not lacking in authority, is portrayed as an amiable, rather compromising and in many ways tolerant father. Indeed, his children seem to pay little attention to him. Consequently, the bridegroom’s anger emerges as a somewhat artificial surprise. However, the family honour, as perceived by the Mukhtar, his wife and the villagers, is a crucial issue and ought to have been developed more systematically.
But in conclusion I should like to stress the positive and exciting aspects of the film. I found the blend of the villagers’ attachment to the land, the archaic surroundings at the village houses and the picturesque scenery most exhilarating against the rhythmic folk-style music. I also found the character of the bridegroom’s grandfather, and his repeated remarks about Palestine’s former Turkish and British rulers, very pertinent. (Yet we ourselves should be aware of the crucial difference between those former rulers and the present-day Israelis: the latter are always accompanied by land surveyors, in preparation for land confiscation.)
To this we must add the film’s brilliant portrayal of Arab horsemanship. There is a traditional saying among the Galilee villagers, that when an Arab man comes into a fortune he either marries a second wife or acquires a thoroughbred Arabian horse. Present-day Galilean society is monogamous, and the Arabian horse has largely been replaced by the car. Yet Arab horsemanship has not yet faded away, and Abu-‘Adel’s heartwarming attachment to his horse is marvellously shown. His anxiety over the entrapment of the horse ln an Israeli mine-field and his relief at its extrication dwarfs any sentiments he could ever have regarding his son’s wedding.