I did not care for writer-director Karin Albou’s first feature, La petite Jérusalem (2005), and her oh-so-sensitive follow-up, Le chant des mariées, dispirited me. Central is the close friendship between two teenaged girls, one Jewish and the other Muslim, which is stressed by their mutual envy and the onslaught of Nazi propaganda during the German occupation of Tunis beginning in 1942. Myriam, who gets to go to school, is pressured by her mother to marry Raoul, an older gentleman whom Myriam doesn’t love but who might be able to “buy” her some protection from the intensifying Jew-hating storm; meanwhile, although she isn’t allowed to go to school, Nour is going to marry Khaled, whom she loves and who is in love with her.
Raoul’s willingness to barter with Nazis generates a crisis of conscience; meanwhile, Khaled, sucked in by Nazi propaganda, demands that Nour break with Myriam. (Albou downplays the element of gender-jealousy that might have made better sense of Khaled’s rage and petulance.) Nour and Khaled’s wedding night proves a yukky scene. Adaptable, almost to a fault, Khaled is not in bed with an inexperienced bride as relations hover outside the bedroom door awaiting the good news that the marriage has taken flight. Khaled thus cuts Nour’s foot to provide family with a blood-stained sheet testifying falsely to Nour’s just-lost virginity. I would have preferred that Khaled had cut his own foot.
The film ends in a clinch—but girl-girl, not girl-boy. This brings to modest fruition the real intimacy with which Albou’s film has dealt. But “dealt” is a strong word to apply to so lame and lightweight a film as this. Indeed, there seems to be no more compelling basis for Nour and Myriam’s friendship than the script’s insistence on it.
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