Le Chant des Mariées

Le Chant des MariéesLe Chant des Mariées

Karin Albou :: France, Tunisia :: 2007 :: 1h40

We open into an engagement party for Nour and her cousin Khaled, Tunis 1942. Although it is an arranged marriage, Nour’s relationship with Khaled is one of a blossoming love as they get to know one another. Nour, 16, is denied an education, but had been taught to read by her best friend Myriam and receives books from the young Khaled. Nour and Khaled’s marriage is postponed several times as Khaled has trouble finding work in the German occupied city. Our attention is directed at the love and experience of the two girls discovering the world around them. The movie is roughly divided into two halves, with the first more on Myriam (and her relationship with Nour) and the second half concentrating on Nour’s development.

The girls had grown up together fantasising about romantic love and watch it grow between Nour and Khaled. For the girls, it is as if Nour is living her love story for the two of them. Myriam hopes she will have her own ‘Khaled’ someday, but fate, as directed by her mother, unfortunately sets her to be wed to an older man, the doctor Raoul. Her first meeting with him spells out their future… she does not like him. Raoul had come into the picture as the saviour from the German occupiers’ cruel laws affecting Myriam and her mother. His generous offer to help, in exchange for Myriam in marriage, came at a bitter price as they find out he labours in collaboration with the Nazi’s. Khaled, who seemed the bright young fiancé, turns out to be quite somebody else when pushed under the occupying force, to the disillusionment of Nour and Myriam.

The sensual awakening of the young girls is contrasted with the onslaught of propaganda and fear perpetuated by the German occupiers. The movie shows not only the girls’ vulnerability but also the dangers of a lack of education to be able to judge and defend themselves. Nour may have been taught to read by her friend Myriam, but it is not enough to arm her against the propaganda pouring into their house (radio and brochures) and the fear through the window (bombs and soldiers marching). Neither of the girls really know how to deal with the situation they were thrown into, but it is clear that Myriam had the advantage of seeing clearer through the ideological disinformation.

Visually, the movie is very intimate. As we see the world through the eyes of Myriam and Nour, the men are mostly cut out of the visual field. Most of the movie is indoors, in their house, where they live. The war is heard outside, and through their shared radio, which had now become an auditive wall between the families. The occupying force is never shown with faces, soldiers are like robots which are heard marching. The girls’ love for one another is shown with the proximity of sisters, with their intimacy as their shared good. Love is not so much an emotion which is described as it is an emotion to be felt, with the stroking or the holding of the other. A physical southern Mediterranean feel dominates, as the heat lingers in the tight social construct in which they live. It is a flawed society, as all are (here specifically the position of women), but it is their world, the world of Myriam and Nour.

Parallels can be made with La Petite Jerusalem, with its emphasis on sensuality and vulnerability, for the mixture between modernity and tradition, for the almost exclusive female look on the world, or for the potential clashes between Muslims and Jews. Ms Albou’s first film was more focussed than Le Chant des Mariées, which takes on more subjects than it can realistically handle. This is unfortunate and weakens the film.  The director is still young, and with a talent like hers, she will have more than enough opportunity to pass on any point she wishes. Karin Albou is clearly a very gifted filmmaker and one to watch out for. Even if too many elements in a movie stomps off thought and confuses the viewer, we can consider ourselves blessed with such a beautiful performance. Do not hesitate to go in, Le Chant des Mariées opens doors to a world normally hidden from sight, and does so admirably.

Dossier de presse (The Wedding Song)