by Rania Hammad
The film “Bride Dress” (2019), by Palestinian director Marwah Jbara Tibi, just screened in Rome at the International Women’s House – and promoted by Assopace Palestina and “Ya Amar” group for the regeneration of Palestinian cultural heritage in Italy – was enthusiastically welcomed.
The film was highly appreciated not only for its cinematic beauty – that allows the viewer to enter the reality and characters thanks to the spontaneity of everyday scenes – but also for its topicality (given the new Israeli law on family reunification- https: / /ilmanifesto.it/sposi-palestinesi-e-israeliani-separati-per-legge/). Tibi’s message of hope is captivating, which sees love triumphing over apartheid. The film shows what most distinguishes the Palestinian people: namely their resilience (sumud) as a people who remain united despite the divisions imposed by walls, checkpoints and laws, in a land where one resists and wins, in both love and in life.
The film has received major recognitions and was awarded Best Feature Documentary by the Rabat Human Rights Film Festival and the Florence Film Festival.
The Palestinian director, who holds Israeli citizenship, has been a guest at numerous international festivals and her film “Abbas 36” has also aroused great interest. It won best documentary at the Berlin international art film festival and was also awarded at the Toronto International Women’s Festival.
Her ability to uplift the role of women in Palestinian society is striking, showing them to be strong and determined, and protagonists of their own destiny.
In her films and documentaries, Tibi effectively presents the difficult life of Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, but also that of the Palestinians of 1948 -who Israel calls Israeli Arabs – that nevertheless keep their strong Palestinian identity, despite being discriminated against as non-Jews and treated as second-rate citizens in Israel.
In “Bride Dress”, Marwah Jbara Tibi follows her protagonists as they repeat and underline that the Palestinian people are one, even if geographically divided inside and outside of Palestine – by lines drawn in the sand – as well as by discriminatory laws. They remain united as a people and allow nothing to weaken or undermine their dignity and indestructible national identity.
The story is about two women grappling with preparations for their weddings: happy and festive moments, rituals and traditions such as a bachelorette party and henna evening, and the preparation of dinner with long hours and tireless hands to fill vine leaves, and sharing between women who cook together and chat about the life plans of a couple in love and the abnormalities experienced by Palestinians under occupation and apartheid.
What the two women have in common is the choice of the same dress, rented in a traditional clothing store – the Palestinian Heritage Center of the well-known Maha Sacca in Bethlehem – and the drama of their situation. In fact, neither of the two is allowed to have a peaceful marriage devoid of the obstacles caused by the occupation and related abuses. The film tells how the stories of two women resemble each other, due to the cruel impact of the Israeli occupation on their lives which denies them peace of mind in such an important step in their lives.
The film evokes the great emotions and feelings of spouses and families, typical of a wedding. You leave the warmth of your family to join another person, and create a new family. As always, euphoria mixes with a sense of nostalgia when leaving home. But for the Palestinians these emotions are added those of a broader sense of uncertainty and instability, due to the condition of human beings under the constant threat of an unjust occupation.
A bride finds herself celebrating her wedding party alone, with her boyfriend watching her on a mobile phone screen inside an Israeli prison. He is not a criminal, but a political prisoner in a land that uses administrative detention to crush the struggle for human rights.
The other bride experiences her moment of joy with anxiety and concern, because her future husband may not be present at the same wedding as her! Israel does not in fact grant him permission to go from Alkhalil (Hebron) to Nassra (Nazareth); that is, from the occupied West Bank to a Palestinian city inside Israel.
Herein lies the heart of the drama: a people divided by the creation of the State of Israel, where love is hindered by laws that do not allow Palestinians to move within their own nation. Eventually, the groom enters illegally and passes the Israeli checkpoint inside the trunk of the car with a couple of friends. His family, however, is not there: it would have been too risky for them. And so for this loving couple, apartheid means having two marriages: one with her family (and without his family), and the other vice versa. Emblematic of the broader situation, told with irony and intelligence.
The final message is the triumph of love and the feeling of unity of the people. A unique people, which with smiling and effective determination faces walls, checkpoints and racist laws in order to realize their individual and collective dreams.