World gone mad

Rana's Wedding puts love to the test

Seventeen-year-old Rana (Clara Khoury) has less than 24 hours to make up her mind about her future.

Will she stay in the war-torn purgatory of Jerusalem, or will she accompany her father to a new job in Egypt? The one condition her father places on Rana for staying in Jerusalem is that she must marry one of the men "from good homes" he has placed on a list for her.

Rana's Wedding paints a nightmarish vision of life in the midst of the Arab-Israeli conflict as seen through the eyes of this member of the Palestinian upper-middle class. Racing against time, Rana wanders the deserted streets of occupied East Jerusalem and then the West Bank town of Ramallah searching for the man she wants to marry: theater director Khalil (Khalifa Natour), who's not on her father's list.

Family life continues to go on behind closed doors, but out on the streets, Rana's only companions seem to be the stone-faced soldiers who patrol the city with rifles strapped across their chests. Director Hany Abu-Assad gives a taste of the depressing omnipresent anxiety of living in a land where dangerously stressed soldiers, border checkpoints, bomb- detonating robots and surveillance cameras are everywhere.

Israeli soldiers push pedestrians away from border checkpoints as little boys express the outrage of the community by throwing rocks at the troops.

At one point, when she tries to cross a border along with other pedestrians, Rana gets caught between the stone-throwing children and the Israeli soldiers who answer with gunfire. She watches as a small boy is shot in the leg. The matter of fact way he is quickly whisked away by an older boy, as the children continue their rock throwing, conveys the madness of a place that has fallen into a routine of casual violence. The whole exchange is dreadfully prolonged and has the slightly surreal slow motion quality of a real trauma.

It's hard not to see Rana as a symbolic figure; an archetypal womanly life force resisting the destructive male death march all around her.

In her moment of indecision and trauma, Rana is exquisitely attuned to the madness of the place where she lives. Ready to make a dramatic change in her life, Rana has a heightened sense of how incompatible a place like her home is to values of love and stability.

Rana's Wedding is about how ordinary life can continue despite an atmosphere of nearly constant conflict. As skirmishes, bombs and funerals go on all around her, Rana — like hundreds of others — holds out hope. Her relatives keep asking her why she wants to marry the poor, bohemian Khalil. Her answer — "for love" — mystifies them. In the midst of the madness, her family clings to the idea of stability offered by marriage to a lawyer or engineer, while Rana puts her faith in love.

In Abu-Assad's hands, that love seems the most pure and lyrical expression of resistance in a world gone mad.

But Abu-Assad sometimes gets lost in the intense emotions of this time and place. When Rana is caught in the middle of a Palestinian funeral procession, she races for the comfort of her boyfriend's VW Bug. From outside the car, Abu-Assad shoots a distressed Rana as she looks directly at the camera and pantomimes gestures of exaggerated grief. It's a melodramatic moment that fits badly with the subdued atmosphere of the rest of the film.

For the most part, though, Rana's Wedding is an urgent, consuming film about our conflicted humanity and the coexistence of both pure hope and ugly violence. The film's final image, of an al fresco wedding party at the Al-Dahia border crossing, is a tearjerker remindful of how sad and fragile our existence is, and how necessary it is to make it a joyful one.