Capturing the nervous anxiety of life in today’s war-wracked East Jerusalem, “Rana’s Wedding” (a.k.a. pic’s Arabic title, “Jerusalem, Another Day”) uses the dramatic pretext of a girl forced to get married in a hurry to show the harsh reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it affects normal people. Though shot from the Palestinian P.O.V., the Dutch/Palestinian Film Foundation co-production is remarkably balanced, offering a convinced message of hope for the future. International auds should find this second feature by the Netherlands-based filmer Hany Abu-Assad, who has been involved in several important Palestinian pictures as a producer, engaging and in the end even stirring, as life and love triumph over guns and suspicion.
Anchoring the story is the headstrong, emotional Rana (Clara Khoury), who wakes up one morning faced with a momentous decision. Her well-to-do father is moving to Cairo and she must go with him, unless she gets married before the plane leaves at 4 o’clock. He has furnished a list of eligible young doctors, lawyers and engineers — strangers to her — who have sought her hand, but Rana doesn’t want any of them.
She sets out to find Khalil (Khalifa Natour), the theater director she loves, and marry him before the deadline. Traveling in taxis and on foot, Rana braves armed Israeli patrols and nightmarish roadblocks to reach Ramallah, where Khalil has spent the night in the theater. He agrees to marry her in a sleepy exchange onstage, in a scene that subtly suggests the theatrical nature of the rushed wedding.
Although all that urgency feels cooked up for the sake of the story (why can’t Rana’s father just postpone his departure to give his motherless only daughter time to make a rational decision?), it’s intriguing enough to pass as a dramatic device. Most of the audience’s attention is diverted anyway to Khoury’s performance as the courageous, petulant, hair-trigger Rana, who becomes a emotional barometer for the historical currents running through the film.
While Rana, Khalil and their actor friend Ramzy (Ismael Dabbag) race around at reduced Mideastern pace in a little yellow car collecting documents, a wedding dress and an official to perform the ceremony, they continually run up against obstacles that challenge their determination: Pedestrians dash across a roadblock past soldiers shooting at little boys hurling rocks. Rana is shaken by a grim street funeral. Soldiers blow up a bag she has forgetfully left behind. Surveillance cameras spy on their most private moments. Bulldozers demolish a house next door while she loses heart in constructing a future for herself.
Everywhere they go, Brigit Hillenius’s alert camera reveals a desolate, decimated landscape that offers the vividly drawn characters no way out. The victory of human will is all the more moving under these circumstances.
Showing Jerusalem as a multi-ethnic city encompassing Catholics as well as Muslims and Jews, film takes a broad and distanced view of the current conflict. The fact that all the Israelis are unsmiling soldiers carrying huge weapons establishes the tense atmosphere of potential danger in East Jerusalem.
Pic hits one false note in quoting Mahmoud Darwish’s famous poem “State of Siege” at the end, where the repeated word “enemy” leaps out awkwardly from a film notable for its restraint.