In An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Naficy, 2001) Hamid Naficy explains the background against which modern Palestine cinema is set:
Contemporary historical and political factors other than exile have made the issues of land and territory important. In the Middle East, for example, territorial ownership is the key issue in the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, which has been kept in the forefront of both sides’ consciousness by various wars and mutual atrocities. These have resulted n the displacement of nearly half of the 5.2 million Palestinians as refugees, exiles, guest workers, and emigres, often to inhospitable lands near and far. Lebanon has been home to some 350,000 refugees who live in some fifteen camps. These camps are often bounded places designed to “contain, manage and re-invent the identities of refugees”. At the same time, they are important sires of refugee resistance. The shared suffering experienced there promoted solidarity among refugees from diverse places. (Naficy, 2001 p.166)
He goes on to write that:
Not all Palestinians were dispersed into external exile. Many remained in Israel or in the Occupied Territories under Israeli control (these are called the “remnant”). Barbara Parmenter has identified three symbolic landscapes i Palestinian exilic literature, which are also inscribed in Palestinian films: desert, city, and refugee camp. […] An increasing number of Palestinian exiles in Europe and North America, Michel Khleifi among them, are making films that center on Palestinian life in Israel, in the Occupied Territories, and in the Palestinian diaspora. These are all part of the corpus that forms what might be called the Palestinian “national cinema” – one that is uniquely driven by exile. (Naficy, 2001 p.166-167)
Naficy also writes about the how Palestinian identity is linked to place:
Despite the scattering of Palestinians to different places, the Palestinian identity is often constructed vis-a-vis an original place, that is, Palestine before the creation of Israel. Thus, as Edward Said has noted, for the refugees and the exiles, Palestinian identity has meant both the idea of return to a previous place from which they were evicted and the and the birth of a new pluralistic place (a new Palestine side by side with Israel). On the other hand, for the remnant is has meant staying in place while fighting for independence, freedom, and self-government (1979, 125-26). The generally inhospitable environments in which the refugees and the remnant have lived contrast sharply with the prosperous land, orchards and field that many Palestinians, particularly those from Galilee and the West Bank, remember. Because of this idyllic memory, these places have become important symbolic sites in the Palestinian cinema’s rhetoric of the land, home, and identity. (Naficy, 2001 p. 167)
He links this to Michel Khleifi’s film Wedding in Galilee (Khleifi, 1988) and picks out the home as a place of singular meaning to Palestinians as it relates to their lost homeland:
In the accented cinema, the house is an intensely charged place and a signifying trope. As a trope, it signifies deterritorialization more than reterritorialization, for displaced filmmakers are fully aware that in today’s age of “ethnic cleansing”, possessing a house, a home, or a homeland seems to require first the expulsion of its current residents. Instances of harmony in their films are few, and they are usually created only retrospectively. (Naficy, 2001 p.169)
In writing about Wedding in Galilee, Naficy outlines the film:
The film is about the wedding of the son of a Palestinian village headman in Galilee (named Abu Adel) whose village is under Israeli military occupation 16. Since curfew rules do not allow the wedding to extend into the night, Abu Adel seeks permission for an extension. The military governor agrees on the condition that he and his entourage be invited to the wedding as guests. (Naficy, 2001 p167)
And he notes that “the process of obtaining wedding permission allegorizes the process that Khleifi himself went through to gain filming authorization from Israeli local municipalities in Nazareth and the West Bank (Naficy, 2001 p167).”
He continues to describe the film and how it’s plot represents the Palestinian desire for freedom:
In the course of the elaborate wedding ceremony, conducted under the governor’s watchful eyes and resented by young Palestinian radicals, Abu Adel’s favourite thoroughbred mare escapes from its stable. The image of the mare galloping across the surrounding fields and hills expresses the Palestinians’ wish for freedom from occupation. The two boys who had let the mare loose discover that she has wandered into an area mined by the Israeli military. One of them hurries back to the village to fetch Abu Adel. (Naficy, 2001 p167)
He also considers how Khleifi presents an idyllic version of rural Palestine, from which the Palestinians themselves are almost excluded:
As the boy runs through the hills, cultivated lands, orchards, and yards and into Abu Adel’s house, where the wedding ceremony is in process in its traditional fullness, another configuration of space is rendered. If the Zionist’s project history was to deny the existence of a Palestinian people, Wedding in Galilee’s thick description and documentation of a Palestinian culture and agriculture provide a counternarrative. It forcefully posits that the Palestinian Arabs are there on the ground, and that like the Israelis they are capable of making the desert bloom. By so integrally linking the Palestinians to the land and to its cultivation, the film creates an agricultural idyll before occupation and expulsion.(Naficy, 2001 p167-168)
Khleifi’s representation of a lush and fertile land is juxtaposed with Abu Adel exclusion from it, Adel watches the countryside longingly from his bus seat as he returns from visiting the military governor. And this idealised representation of Palestine seems to reflect a major theme of the film, that of memory and its ability to varnish history until it becomes a caricature of reality. The idealisation of history through memory is represented in the character of an old lady, who the other Palestinians call crazy and senile. This elderly woman speaks almost entirely of the past, reminiscing about how she used to dance with sabres and enchant her suitors, and how handsome her lover was: “he was as handsome as a god (Khleifi, 1988)”. She’s a manifestation of Palestinian desire to cling to a pre-Israel past in the hope of a similarly utopian future.
The importance of memory, and tradition, is also embedded into the plot of the film via its focus on the wedding of Abu Adel’s son. Weddings are cultural events loaded with tradition, memories of the past and hopes for the future. They don’t just belong to the bride and groom, but to the whole community; as one guest says to another in Wedding in Galilee, “this wedding belongs to you too (Khleifi, 1988)”. Setting his story at a wedding allows Khleifi to use it as an allegory for the Palestinian fight for freedom; the conflicts between old and new, between honour and enjoyment, and between family and duty which are present throughout Palestine are investigated here in the microcosm of the wedding that Khleifi plots.
Abu Adel is attacked by his hard-line contemporaries for allowing the Israeli governor to attend the wedding (and later in the film Adel’s son does the same). There’s also a subplot centered on Adel’s teenage daughter whose flirtatious nature and modern outlook brings her father the fear of familial dis-honour. These conflicts between those who want to hold on to traditions and those who want to let them go, and between those who want revenge versus those who want to move on, mimic the divisions in Palestinian society about how they should respond to Israel’s creation and expansion. These divisions (and the lack of grey between them) reflect the unwillingness to compromise on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,. But it also represents the binary nature of Palestinian society and the large differences in how people feel the Palestinian people should respond to the conflict.
Yet another way in which Khleifi explores memory and tradition is through Abu Adel’s dreams. Adel frequently refers to them in conversation with other characters. And he visits his youngest son while he sleeps asking him, “are your dreams like mine? (Khleifi, 1988)” and “why do I want you to learn my story by heart? (Khleifi, 1988)”. The importance Adel places on his dreams reflect the focus of Palestine on its pre-Israel ideal and the desire to return to its past in the future. But Adel’s questions also reflect a fear that perhaps his son does not feel as he does. Just as there are divisions in Palestine, there may well be divisions in Adel’s family. And indeed we later find out that Adel’s oldest son, the groom in the wedding, most emphatically disagrees with him, to the point of wanting to kill his father. When Adel’s son finally confronts his father, he shouts “I don’t want to be the victim of his dreams” which seems to be crux of the argument for Palestinians on both sides of every conflict.
Khleifi, M., (1988), Wedding in Galilee, Marisa Films
Naficy, H., (2001), An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking, Princeton: Princeton University Press