The Husband Schism

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Becoming caught up in your own daily routine happens to the best of us.  We strive to surround ourselves with things, situations, and people that make us comfortable.  After all the world can be a hard unpleasant place and knowing that somewhere there is a carefully crafted safe zone to which you can return can sometimes be the one thought that will get us through the day.  As citizens of the First World we are lucky enough to have this luxury available to us however it does make us complacent if we do not leave it sometimes.  We become easily upset when something completely trivial happens to us and forget that there is a whole world full of billions of people that pray to have lives we so often take for granted.  The safest way to begin to edge out of the comfort of your own life is to watch foreign films.  This gives you a familiar medium through which the uncomfortable lives of so make other people in the world can begin to be grasped.  After all being cozy on the couch eating popcorn and being entertained is a lot less stressful or horrifying than watching the news and provides a human connection so you don’t just shut down and tell yourself that there is nothing you can do because it’s happening “over there.”

A film that does a great job of introducing people to some of the trials suffered by people is “The Wedding Song” written and directed by Karin Albou.  This is a movie set in 1942 Tunisia about two young women from different religious backgrounds that grew up next to one another.  The film begins just as the best friends are beginning to see that their lives are radically different which in this case is when one of them becomes engaged.  The reinforcing backdrop to the coming conflict between the friends is shown by the encroaching Allied forces, representing Myriam the Jewish woman, and their conflicts with the Third Reich, representing Nour, the Muslim woman.  The first time the conflict occurs between the two women is after a night of bombing has destroyed some of the market place in town.  As the two women are out with their families’ German planes swoop down dropping Muslim sympathizing pamphlets over the bomb site claiming that if anyone was found in possession of the document the Germans would know they were friendly.  Myrian watches across the rubble as her best friend Nour picks the paper up and keeps it.  This is when the tension between the women becomes known to both them and the audience.

As Myriam becomes engaged to a wealthy Jewish doctor who is from her mother’s generation and Nour puts stress on Khaled to find a job so that they can be married, the two women drift farther apart.  Khaled’s need for a job ushers him to the Nazis for whom he becomes an informant.  This is discovered as the audience watches the horrible scene unfold along with Myriam as she is hiding under a bed, her view framed by her mother’s feet as German forces sack her home demanding to know who else is there as they steal anything of value they can find.  Amid the enemy she sees Khaled, her best friend’s fiancée willingly answering questions.  This is when the audience sees the true simple horror of the situation for the two friends: Nour cannot be happy unless she is married to her lover which cannot happen unless he gets a job of which the only one available is turning in Jews to the Germans.  So the only way Nour can be happy is if her best friend is taken away to a camp to die.

Though it seems that the two women will be torn asunder never to find comfort or friendship in one another again, there are two deeply moving scenes in which the director shows that the tension created between them is false in the light of their friendship.  This is shown most provocatively when both women are bathing at the hammam.  They have devolved to such a place that they do not even speak to one another but share only the briefest of glances, until the Germans come storming in.  As Nour watches Myriam being rounded up, wearing only her underwear trying desperately to cover herself in front of the men, Nour grabs the pamphlet that had previously driven a wedge between them and uses it to save her friends life.  She proclaims that the woman is her sister and subtly has her recite the creed of Muslims after which she is flung aside, the only uncovered woman in the scene.  Watching Myriam curled up crying in a room full of veiled women the audience is made aware of her nudity just as they were when she was being waxed for her husband.  The use of Myriams physical nakedness always coincides with her vulnerability and submission to people or circumstances.

The last way that Albou justifies the falsity of the schism created between the two friends is the very last scene of the film.  Nour has finally been married.  In the middle of the consummation celebration the city is bombed and everyone is forced to flee for shelter.  Nour journeys through fire, rubble, explosion, all elements showing the trials of her friendship to find shelter.  Within the shelter is Myriam, quietly singing a prayer.  Nour hears her across the room and though she could have stopped, she seeks out the source of the song.  Albou shoots the scene over the shoulder of Nour so that the audience travels this last part of her journey with her.  When she finds her best friend she throws herself into her embrace and together the two women sing their prayers to each other in harmony, showing that the space created between them by the people and circumstances surrounding them was one that could not be maintained and when the worst happens the gap slams closed, making their friendship stronger than it was before.

In “The Wedding Song” Albou has created crisis and resolution that shows the true struggles that humans can go through.  She successfully defines that the human experience can only be truly defined by the other people around you, their hopes and dreams, and how sometimes the realization of them may separate you from those you love temporarily but that the cement of friendship will hold as long as you are willing to let it.

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