Review by Louise Keller:
A wedding usually heralds the beginning of a life together, but this wedding starts with life apart. When filmmaker Sherine Salama began making her documentary in July 2000, she hoped that her portrayal of a wedding in the bustling city of Ramallah would also reflect traditions and closeness of Palestinian family life. Little did she know that this was the eve of war and that this would be one of the last such wedding celebrations.
Salama’s A Wedding In Ramallah is a fascinating and often moving insight into life in Palestine and the culture of its people. Divided into three parts, we first meet Bassam, who left his country 11 years ago after spending three years in an Israeli prison accused of being an activist, and now lives in Cleveland. The beating he endured by his captors in the 80s left him sterile and now, after a traditional, but failed marriage, he wants an arranged one.
He and Mariam have only met twice and there are awkward silences; most of the courtship takes place with the whole family present. The first time they are out together alone is the occasion when Bassam buys gold to form the bride price. We share the exuberance of the colourful wedding, the laughter, the tears, the formalities. And then he is gone and Mariam is left with his family.
Her evolving friendship with her sister-in-law Sinora, whose husband doesn’t seem to want her to join him in America, touches us, as does Salama’s own connection with the women. The family keeps tabs of the growing violence outside by watching the news on television. When Bassam and his brother Moussa return for a brief visit to try to speed up Mariam’s visa, there’s great excitement in the household. Walls and floors are scrubbed spotless and the wives-in-waiting go to the hairdresser, apply extra make-up and wear their best gowns for their husbands’ return.
For Mariam, the visit is a happy one: she is like a blushing bride again. But then the men are gone again, and it is only through Salama’s camera, that Mariam gets a peek at her future home. ‘America is so beautiful’ she squeals with delight, as she sees images of the four gas burners on the stove in the Cleveland apartment. ‘I hope we get to America.’ Salama’s personal relationship with the women continues as Mariam finally arrives in America, but she is bitterly disappointed. Speaking no English, nor with the will to learn, we share Mariam’s solitary existence, isolated by day in the small suburban apartment, with only the phone as her contact to the outside world.
The juxtaposition of man and woman’s role is fascinating; the role of the wife goes no further than that of home maker. She cooks, cleans and brings her husband’s slippers after work. A Wedding in Ramallah is an extraordinary insight into a culture bound by its family traditions and those of its culture. It’s a journey where laughter, tears, patience and disappointment colour the reality.