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A slow-burning, skillfully performed study of family malaise and religious subjugation, Stephan Streker’s A Wedding (Noces) follows a young Pakistani girl living in Belgium who’s forced into an arranged marriage by her deeply traditional parents.
Featuring a superb international cast that includes newcomer Lina El Arabi in the lead role, Sebastien Houbani (Geronimo) as her domineering brother and Iranian actor Babak Karimi (A Separation, The Salesman) as a father blinded by his own orthodox convictions, this intimately probing drama has already received prizes during its festival run in France, with international premieres in Toronto and Rome. European theatrical bids for this co-production are certain, while overseas art houses may want to pay this Wedding a visit.
First seen at a doctor’s office discussing a possible abortion, Zahira (El Arabi) is a rather pugnacious and self-assured college student living with her Muslim Pakistani parents (Karimi and Neena Kulkarni) and brother, Amir (Houbani), in a quiet Belgian suburb. Like most girls her age — including her childhood best friend, Aurora (Alice de Lencquesaing) — she wants to be able make her own choices in life, including which boys she can date and what she may eventually do for a career.
But Zahira’s father and mother have other plans for her, offering her the sole option of choosing between three possible candidates she will be obliged to marry back in their native Pakistan. And although the lucky winner (Harmandeep Palminder, memorable in the coming-of-age immigrant drama Young Tiger) seems like a nice enough guy, he and the whole idea of marriage are far from Zahira’s mind, especially after she falls for a local mechanic (Zacharie Chasseraiud) who offers her a possible way out.
Set primarily within the confines of Zahira’s apartment and her father’s modest grocery store, A Wedding has a chamber piece feel to it that grows increasingly claustrophobic as our heroine’s options start to run out. The drab Belgian backdrops, not to mention the overwhelming feeling of family oppression, bring to mind the work of Joachim Lafosse — especially his ripped-from-the-headlines drama Our Children, which also dealt with a young woman crushed by a relentless patriarch.
The difference here is in Streker’s depiction of Zahira’s father, Mansoor, show to be a kindhearted man who can’t escape the weight of deep-rooted traditions, and is willing to lose everything to prove that his beliefs have not been thwarted by life in Europe. The scene where Mansoor confronts Andre (Dardenne brothers stalwart Olivier Gourmet), the father of Aurora and a longtime family friend, is among the film’s finest, with Karimi channeling both the stubbornness and despair of a father who refuses to allow his daughter to slip away from him, less out of love than out of pride.
El Arabi and Houbani also are excellent as siblings whose relationship becomes severely strained by Zahira’s decision to stray from her family’s chosen path, with the devout and troubled Amir forced to do his dad’s bidding when the latter suffers a health scare. If Amir’s ultimate gesture — one that was apparently inspired by true events — seems extreme to say the least, Streker sets the stage for it in a believable way, creating a pressure-cooker atmosphere that boils over when Zahira ultimately decides to stand her ground.
Production company: Daylight Films
Cast: Lina El Arabi, Sebastien Houbani, Babak Karimi, Neena Kulkarni, Olivier Gourmet
Director-screenwriter: Stephan Streker
Producers: Michael Goldberg, Boris Van Gils
Director of photography: Grimm Vandekerckhove
Production designer: Catherine Cosme
Editors: Jerome Guiot, Mathilde Muyard
Casting director: Nilton Martins
In French, Urdu
Not rated, 95 minutes
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