By Phil Hall | November 17, 2005

“The Syrian Bride” takes place in a Druze village in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The title character is twentysomething Mona Salman, and she is approaching marriage with an advanced case of melancholy. And who can blame her?

She never met her intended husband, an actor living in Syria. And once she leaves the Golan Heights to join him, she will not be allowed to return to the Israeli-held territory (and to her family therein). But that’s the least of her woes. Her father, a political agitator, was recently released from prison and the Israeli authorities are eager to get him locked up again. Her older brother, who became a family outcast when he defied tradition and married outside the Druze community (to a Russian doctor), is returning after eight years of self-imposed exile. Another brother, a sleazy wheeler-dealer involved in dubious import-export shenanigans, is also coming home. Her older sister, Amal, who is the closest thing the family has to a “modern” woman (she wears jeans), is fighting with her loutish husband over issues from how to raise their daughters to continuing her interrupted education. And to top it off, demonstrations in memory of Syria’s President Hafez Assad, who passed away at the start of the film, are clogging up the streets and threaten to disrupt the wedding.

Filmmaker Eran Riklis has a lot to say, on issues ranging from the emancipation of Muslim women to the cruelties of the Israeli occupation, and he has also has a truckload of soapy subplots to fill the film. But “The Syrian Bride” is a strangely inert affair. The stories devolve into one-dimensional squabbling and too many loose threads flap around the edges (was it really necessary for Mona’s sleazy brother to be the ex-boyfriend of the local Red Cross emissary trying to arrange the passage from the Golan to Syria?).

Most of the actors are barely registering for the camera (only Druze is in the movie, with the rest of the cast played by Palestinians and Israelis). It is difficult not to recall that Clara Khoury, who plays Mona, had a similar role in the far superior 2002 feature “Rana’s Wedding.” Khoury was smashing in that film, but in “The Syrian Bride” she paces about like a somnambulist in a wedding dress. Indeed, the film becomes so dreary that it feels more like a funeral.

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