After watching Wedding in Galilee (Khleifi, 1988) last week, I decided to watch another film which uses the traditions of a wedding to explore Palestinian issues: Rana’s Wedding (Abu-Assad, 2002).
A significant theme of Rana’s Wedding seems to be memory and how it’s associated with tradition. The film’s opening credits are interspersed with photographs of Rana growing up, from a child to a young adult. We also hear a conversation between a young girl (which we assume is Rana) and her mother as the child learns to play the piano. And as the opening titles fade Abu-Assad uses these same photos over the first images that we see of an adult Rana, but he creates an effect where they appear to be flipped round facing the same way as the audience (we see the “back” of each photograph). The effect is one of history, memory and tradition watching over Rana, whether she wants it or not.
Rana’s father doesn’t like her prospective groom and insists that she be married by the time his flight leaves for Egypt at 4pm otherwise she must accompany him (on the unspoken assumption that she won’t be able to arrange the bureaucratic necessities to allow the wedding at such short notice). His insistence on this time limit combined with the restrictions placed on Palestinians by Israel (road blocks, check points and identification papers) mean that the eventual wedding takes place in a van by the side of the road at a checkpoint. The lack of the traditional wedding celebrations seems to offend Rana’s father even more than her choice of groom. Yet Rana and her new husband still happily conduct the traditional first dance in this unconventional location. The final image of the film, of the newlywed couple dancing in the rubble by the roadside, seems to represent the refusal of Palestine to give up its traditions despite all obstacles put before it.
Rana herself is an interesting character. She is confident in her desire to marry and separate herself from her father’s control. But she seems to have idealised her lover and appears to question her choice when he doesn’t seem as keen to marry as she’d hoped. She always seems to come up against obstacles, but she never give ups, always trying to find a way to succeed. At one point she questions herself “Where should I go? Where should we go?” (Abu-Assad, 2002) In this way Abu-Assad seems to be presenting her as a physical representation of Palestine itself; independent, idealistic, constantly challenged but always pushing for what it wants.
If we accept Rana as a personification of Palestine, then her interactions with Israel can be seen as highly critical of the latter’s regime. In one scene she loses her temper during a telephone conversation and throws her mobile phone to the ground. In response some nearby Israeli soldiers jump to attention and aim their weapons at her, which seems an overreaction to a fleeting outburst. Similarly when Rana tries to pass through a roadblock to reach the magistrate who she needs to conduct her wedding, Israeli soldiers refuse to allow her past and physically restrain her despite her distress.
The repeated obstacles faced by Rana give the film a sense of repetition and cyclical time similar to the other Palestinian films that I’ve watched. Objectively Rana’s Wedding follows a clear, linear narrative; the start and end are marked by time, date and location, and the action progresses linearly between these two points.
Yet the repetition of the obstacles that Rana faces (the road blocks and check points, the bureaucracy and her desire to run away) seem to trap her in the same place again and again. It’s another example of how time progresses but nothing seems to really change. And it seems to tinge the happy ending with sadness, because we cannot see how the obstacles that Rana (and other Palestinians) face could be gone, even despite this moment of happiness and success.
Rana’s quest to first find her boyfriend, then the magistrate and then to prepare for her wedding means that much of the film takes place in transit. As with many of the other Palestinian films that I’ve watched thus far, cars feature prominently as locations. And Abu-Assad uses car journeys to create a sense of place by connoting the point of view of his characters watching the world from their car window.
This transient quality is highlighted when Rana is driven past what appears to be a graveyard for unwanted cars; she sees thousands of rusting and rotten cars stacked on top of each other. Buildings are similarly demolished; in one scene Israeli soldiers prevent Palestinians from stopping the destruction of a building that they clearly want to keep. Rana, observing this destruction, says that “They’re demolishing a house on the day I want to build one (Abu-Assad, 2002)” to which her friend responds “Don’t worry. We’ll rebuild it tomorrow (Abu-Assad, 2002)”. This hope amid the destruction is never more prominent than in the final scene in which the traditional wedding rituals are observed in the no-mans land of a rubble covered roadside.
Abu-Assad shoots much of his footage of Rana in a way which gives it a documentary aesthetic. We see her in remote wide shots, following her movements in the streets from a distance; or we see her closer, but from behind (the camera follows her as if it doesn’t know where she’ll end up). This sometimes gives the film an observational quality, as if we are watching it surreptitiously alongside the photographic memories of Rana’s childhood that open the film.
Abu-Assad, H., (2002), Rana’s Wedding, Augustus Film
Khleifi, M., (1988), Wedding in Galilee, Marisa Films