Wedding day to remember on the Israeli-Syrian border

A permanent cloud of frustration seems to engulf the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights. The Arab residents have lived under Israeli rule since the Six-Day War, but they still identify with Syria.

Some of the women endure a different kind of dissatisfaction, since patriarchal tradition and small-town prejudice don’t allow much room for ambition and personal growth.

The clouds part dramatically in “The Syrian Bride,” the marvelously compassionate new movie by Israeli director Eran Riklis (“Cup Final”), allowing for a sunburst of optimism. Hopeful without being Pollyannish, the film gently argues the Middle East would be a lot saner if individuals took precedence over policies and dogma.

“The Syrian Bride” screens Oct. 15 and 16 in the Mill Valley Film Festival, with director Eran Riklis in person.

Riklis, a Jew, and the female Palestinian writer, Suha Arraf, wrote the ensemble piece, which takes place on the wedding day of a Druze woman named Mona.

Mona’s anxious because she’s never met her fiancé, a Damascus-based TV star. What really upsets her, though, is that she’ll never see her family again. Once she crosses the border and trades her Israeli papers for a Syrian passport, she won’t be allowed to re-enter Israel.

Meanwhile, her father is on parole for an anti-Israel protest, and is barred from accompanying the wedding party to the border. Hammed’s mood doesn’t improve with the return of his eldest son, whom he’s never forgiven for marrying a Russian.

Mona slips into the background as her day wears on, and her older married sister Amal (Hiam Abbas) moves to the center. Amal is as stubborn and fearless as her father, but infinitely more effective at navigating the family through treacherous emotional territory.

“The Syrian Bride” is an unabashedly feminist film that implies that Arab hopes for modernism and progressivism lie in the hands of women. Traditionalists will note that while the men strut, shout and pout, it’s the women who keep things running.

Yet the film refuses to brand anyone — not Hammed, not Amal’s conservative husband, not the local Israeli commander — as a villain.

Riklis’ international breakthrough of a decade ago, “Cup Final,” argued that Israelis and Palestinians were not that different. “The Syrian Bride,” a more sophisticated work, imagines a world in which each person’s individuality is allowed to flower.

“The Syrian Bride” screens 9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15, at the Century Regency, 280 Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael and at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. Tickets: (925) 866-9559 or

Michael Fox

Michael Fox is a longtime film journalist and critic, and a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. He teaches documentary classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State. In 2015, the San Francisco Film Society added Fox to Essential SF, its ongoing compendium of the Bay Area film community's most vital figures and institutions.