"The Syrian Bride"

"and the Oscar goes to ..."

Posted March 2, 2006

Two special movie events come to the Island this weekend. "The Syrian Bride," which gives a warmly comic dimension to a painful Middle East conflict, plays Saturday night at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. Then on Sunday night, an Oscar Night party will take place at the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven.

Sponsored by the Silver Screen Society, Sunday's Oscar party will include snacks, desserts from the Black Dog, and movie trivia in place of commercials for partygoers to enjoy while they watch the 78th annual Academy Awards ceremony on the big screen. Our Market and Offshore Ale will provide beverages. The hosts encourage guests to dress up in formal or funky get-up, or go casual in pajamas and slippers, if they prefer.

Films that inspire

Island filmmakers Ken Wentworth and Liz Witham will premiere their new documentary, "Legacy of the Harp," on Friday, March 3, 7 pm at the Katharine Cornell Theatre on Spring Street, Vineyard Haven.

The 25-minute film is an inspirational look at people with mental illness who have turned their lives around, succeeding against long odds. The premiere will be followed by an encore presentation of "A Certain Kind of Beauty," a documentary about Dan Aronie.

Tickets are $7. A Q &A follows the films.

Sunday night's festivities begin at 7:30 pm, and include a Guess the Winners pool. The party will last until the end of the Academy Awards ceremony, which starts at 8 pm, but partygoers are encouraged to come and go when they please. Tickets cost $20 or $15 for society members. They may be reserved in advance through Richard Paradise or purchased at the door.

An ideal film-lover's warm-up for Sunday night's Oscar Night is "The Syrian Bride," playing Saturday at 7:30 pm. Set in the Syrian Druze community of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, this slice-of-life tale depicts the run-up to a wedding unlike any other.

Mona (Clara Khoury), the bride, is practically in mourning because she will marry Tallel (Derar Sliman), a Syrian TV comedian, in a match arranged by Mona's father Hammed (Makram J. Khoury, Clara Khoury's real-life father). The nuptials are fraught with sadness because once Mona crosses the Israeli border to Syria, she can never return or see her family again because of the frictions between Syrian and Israel.

The impending wedding brings together a rainbow coalition of contentious relatives. A political activist, father Hammad is out on bail and has an Israeli police sergeant tracking his every move, as well as the Druze town fathers hovering nearby in disapproval over some of his politically incorrect family members.

Mona's older brother Hattem (Eyad Sheety), who arrives from Russia with his Russian wife, hasn't spoken to his father since he abandoned his homeland. Mona's wheeler-dealer younger brother Marwan (Ashraf Barhoum) shows up, cellphone in hand, from Italy, and takes the opportunity to rekindle a romance he's had with French Red Cross liaison Jeanne (Julie-Ann Roth). Mona's older sister Amal (Hiam Abass), hardly speaks to her husband Amin (Adnan Tarabshi), because of his old-fashioned ideas about women.

Meanwhile, negotiations for Mona's border crossing grow ever more absurdly complicated. Mona frets, and sister Amal becomes the linchpin in this intriguing stew of family disputes and issues. Powerful and evocative as an actor, Abass also plays the mother in "Paradise Now" - by far the best candidate for this year's Best Foreign Film Oscar - and is featured in another Oscar contender, Steven Speilberg's "Munich."

"The Syrian Bride's" director, Eran Riklis, works with intelligence and visual sensitivity to create a film that captures with unusual efficacy the day-to-day stresses and strains of living in a political hot spot. Picture a perfectly coiffed Mona perched on a straight-backed chair in her splendorous wedding gown at the dusty border. Picture also a family where Mona's brother-in-law has forbidden his wife, Amal, to pursue a career because it would "un-man" him.

In so many of this year's top films, politics boil over with tragic consequences. The feat Riklis has accomplished is to make a movie where international politics break bread with family politics to create a happy, if harried ending. And one of the film's more satisfying surprises is the way its women engineer that happy ending despite living in a society notorious for its oppression of women. u

"The Syrian Bride," Saturday, March 4, 7:30 pm at Katharine Cornell Theatre, Spring Street, Vineyard Haven. Tickets are $6 or $4 for members.

Oscar Night Party, Sunday, March 5, 7:30 pm at Mansion House, Main Street, Vineyard Haven. Tickets are $20 or $15 for members.

For more information call 508-696-9369 or visit

Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to The Times.