Film Review: The Wedding Song

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TURIN, Italy -- Karin Albou's sophomore feature may have some minor moments when its intensity dips, but it is a powerful and intimate portrayal of two young women in a part of the world where female roles are still most often secondary. It also approaches an oft-covered subject -- Jewish persecution during the Holocaust -- from an original perspective.

However, a short but sexually explicit scene ensures that the film will remain mostly art house fare in the U.S., though it should pick up increasingly more international acclaim at festivals.

Set in Tunis on the cusp of World War II, "The Wedding Song" follows 16-year-olds Nour (Olympe Borval), a Muslim, and Myriam (Lizzie Brochere), a Jew. They struggle to maintain their friendship as politics and families threaten to undermine it. They also envy one another, for Nour is engaged to her true love, whom Myriam dreams of finding for herself; Myriam, on the other hand, is allowed an education, something that Muslim girls were not at the time.

Once the Nazi army enters Tunisia and the racial laws are enacted, Myriam's mother, Titi (director Albou), in an attempt to save them from being deported, marries off her unwilling daughter to rich, older doctor Raoul (Simon Abkarian), thereby crushing the girl's hopes of love.

Albou shies away from very little in portraying the intimacy between the two girls. She even films the ritual removal of Myriam's pubic hair in preparation for her wedding, while Nour holds her in her arms, in a decidedly uncomfortable sequence. Time and again the girls seek and find solace from one another in a relationship that has strong sensual overtones.

More than just a look at female sexuality in a repressive culture, "Wedding Song" is a story about how destiny often breaks even the strongest and most essential of bonds, yet the film's backdrop is strangely flat. We know what Myriam, Titi and the other Jewish characters truly have to lose because we know the horrors of the Holocaust, but not because the Nazi occupation or German soldiers are all that menacing onscreen. While this is no small bone to pick, the film is nevertheless held afloat by its performances.

Albou is a natural on camera, and Borval and Brochere both have great chemistry and talent. They convincingly capture the nuances of adolescent diffidence, curiosity and love, though the latter steals most of her scenes with a defiance that equals her striking beauty.

Venue: Turin International Film Festival
Production companies: Gloria Film, France 3 Cinema.
Cast: Lizzie Brochere, Olympe Borval, Najib Oudghiri, Simon Abkarian, Karin
Director: Albou
Screenwriter: Albou
Producers: Laurent Lavole, Isabelle Pragier
Director of photography: Laurent Brunet
Production designer: Khaled Joulak
Music: Francois Eudes
Costume designer: Tania Shebabo-Cohen
Editor: Camille Cotte
Sales agent: Pyramide International
No rating, 100 minutes