Sunday, March 14, 2010

Released Tuesday on DVD: "The Wedding Song"

Grade: B

The Wedding Song, a seductively fluid and tactile drama from the writer and director Karin Albou, explores love and identity through the prism of the female body and the rights of its owner.

Expanding on themes unpacked in her 2005 film, La Petite Jersusalem, Albou focuses on the intense friendship of two 16-year-old girls living in Nazi-occupied Tunis in 1942. Nour (Olympe Borval), a Muslim, eagerly anticipates her wedding to a handsome cousin; Myriam (Lizzie Brochere), a French Jew, is furiously resisting her betrothal to a much older doctor whose money is needed to pay fines imposed by the Nazis.

Filmed with subtle eroticism and dreamy intimacy, the girls bond becomes a compelling love story that will be tested not only by personal grudges but also by anti-Jewish propaganda and inflamed animosity for the French colonists. Against a background of marching jackboots and falling bombs, the film's women look to one another for emotional sustenance, and Albou creates a marvelously fleshy, female world in the casual nakedness of the bathhouse and the ribald humor of Nour's engagement party.

But from henna-stained fingertips to a blood-spotted wedding sheet, the film's images (lovingly captured by Laurent Brunet) remind us that here, female flesh is always the property of men.

"Would you like the bride prepared Oriental or European style?" Myriam's mother asks of her daughter's intended. His preference provokes the film's most shocking but most emblematic scene: a peerless melding of cruelty and tenderness.

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