Cross-Cultural Film Guide/ Patricia Aufderheide
The American University/ ©1992
Plot: A Palestinian patriarch must invite a Jewish Israeli official to his son's wedding, in order to hold it properly. The decision rankles with the groom and his friends, who variously direct their rage against both authority figures and concoct a plot against the visiting Jewish soldiers. The plot is quashed by the elders. In the middle of the ceremony, a horse escapes into a field mined by the Israeli government, and it becomes a symbol of oppressed Palestinians as the soldiers fail to recover it by firing shots but the Palestinian patriarch lures it out. The wedding night culminates in crisis, as the groom, caught in the conflict between the younger and older generation, discovers he cannot consummate the marriage.
Style: The film has state-of-the-art production values, and a strong, taut narrative line. Th film's powerful and frank political theme is well-dressed in the ritual pageantry of an old-fashioned village wedding, filmed with canny appeal to the cinema sophisticate's idea of rustic color. Several lush scenes feature women bathing and dressing, but Khleifi buffs over any hint of exploitation.
Background on director/film: Michel Khleifi, a Palestinian born in Nazareth who now lives in Belgium, made the film for $800,000 (less than a low-cost made-for-television movie) with private financial support from France and Belgium, and from German TV. The film came out before the intifadah, and Khleifi, in an interview with Pat Aufderheide at Filmfest D.C. in 1988, commented on its treatment of violence in the young boys' terrorist plot: "The problem of violence, of the legitimacy of violence, is an issue today. It's a question of the purity of revolt; that's what I'm dealing with. The young man is the same age as the Israeli soldier, the one who fires on the horse. The film is prophetic of the current uprising."
Asked about the film's political implications, Khleifi said: "Wedding in Galilee is a personal film. I think a film only works that way. The characters should not stand in for political concepts. I stand for a cinema that decolonizes life, and I don't like neat distinctions between entertainment and politics. Decolonization supersedes simple politics. Politics, sex, social life, dreams, the psyche, work, and the relationship with the land--all of these interact. If I didn't understand things this way, I would be a propagandist, not a cultural creator. My heroes are artists like Pasolini, Godard, Fassbinder, Ozu, Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, Arthur Penn. I am striving to unite liberty, dignity and pleasure.
"But the film deals with several issues nonetheless: There is a problem in the relationship between the individual and the collective; there is the political question; and there is the question of modernity vs. archaism."
Khleifi went on to make a film in 1990 called Canticle of the Stones, interweaving documentary and fiction footage, about the intifadah, which was widely seen as fiercely polemical.
Film production context: Within Israel, where the state has a variety of support mechanisms for filmmakers, a few Palestinians have made films. However, their work occurs within careful political bounds. Outside Israel, many films, particularly documentaries, have been made on Palestinian issues, some by Palestinians in exile. International nongovernmental organizations as well as PLO entities and supportive Arab organizations have contributed to this production. Khleifi's film is a rare example of a feature entertainment film that features Palestinian culture, not merely political issues. It is also a rare example of a privately-funded production.
American University has one example of an Israeli film: Beyond the Walls, by Uri Barbash. It makes an interesting comparison with Wedding in Galilee.
Importance: Wedding in Galilee is important for the way that political issues become part of a culture that is changing within its own terms (e.g. the challenges to the patriarch) as well as being threatened from without. Without proposing solutions or creating villains in the Israeli soldiers (who are shown as just doing their job), it dramatizes a social as well as political crisis. It also raises questions of gender relations, in the patriarch's role and in the portrayal of women's culture as offering powerful support for the women as well as being a separate realm from the men's. The finished film was not shown in Israel, because censors disagreed with several specific items, including the use of "Galilee" in the title, although it was filmed without incident in Israel. It was distributed in the U.S. successfully on a repertory and festival circuit.
Coco Fusco, "Allegories of Palestine," Afterimage November 1988, pp. 14-16
Lisa Hajjar, Mouin Rabban and Joel Beinin, "Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict for Beginners," in Zachary Lockman and Joel Beinin, Intifadah: The Palestinian uprising against Israeli Occupation, Boston: South End Press, 1989, pp. 101-112
Ella Shohat, Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representatation. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989
Last updated on September 17, 1996
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