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MOVIE REVIEW

'Rana's Wedding' quietly marries passion, politics

Don't come to "Rana's Wedding" expecting an infectious blend of romance, partying, and homemade foodstuffs, or scene after scene in which bickering family members do their best to prop up tired ethnic stereotypes. That's those other "wedding" movies -- the ones with big fat box office receipts and feel-good, step-light agendas. "Rana's Wedding," directed by Hany Abu-Assad from a script by Liana Badr and Ihab Lamey, is an invitation to see something a little less pretty, and potentially more enduring.

Seventeen-year-old Palestinian Rana (played by the radiant and spirited Clara Khoury) is apparently living a fairly sheltered middle-class life in Jerusalem when her father abruptly presents two choices: Move with him to Egypt, or marry some stranger from a list of suitors the old man has approved. Narrowing the noose even more, if there is to be a wedding it has to happen quickly, before the father's plane is scheduled to take off in a matter of hours.

With no interest in relocating, Rana eyes the marriage option, just not in the way her dad foresees. There is a lover, Khalil (Khalifa Natour), who doesn't make the list of preapproved suitors because, among other fatal flaws, he's a lowly theater director. First Rana has to find her hard-to-locate intended and convince him to marry; next, they need permission from a registrar to go against parental decree.

Like most "quest" films, "Rana's Wedding" (a.k.a. "Al Qods Fee Yom Akhar") is as much about the geography, culture, and broader elements of the journey as it is about any individual characters or story. In this case, Rana and Khalil are the dramatic excuse to view Jerusalem and nearby Ramallah through the eyes of Palestinians under siege, and their sympathetic situation provides a convenient means to draw parallels between the bureaucratic struggles of a couple and a people.

As would-be husband and wife race against the clock, they cover enough urban and rural ground to constitute a Rough Guide for travelers -- literally going out of their way to expose beautiful stone facades, bustling street markets, and exotic countryside on the one hand; roiling poverty, military checkpoints, and acres of rubble on the other. Unfortunately, Abu-Assad makes the most of his political points in drive-by fashion, and sometimes -- as when Rana engages in a lengthy shoving match with curiously tolerant police at a roadblock -- the director glosses over harsh realities with depictions that are tepid and unconvincingly neat.

But at least this wedding film is no stale confection. It dares to introduce (if not thoroughly explore) substantive contemporary issues including religious persecution, economic disenfranchisement, and women's rights, and it presents those issues in a quiet, sensible voice that's bound to help Palestinian filmmaking find broader distribution.

That industry has already found a star in Khoury. She gives "Rana's Wedding" luster even when all her character is doing is pouting in a dusty Volkswagen.

As to whether there are actual nuptials in "Rana's Wedding," what little pull of suspense the screenplay manages should probably be preserved. Let's just say the film has a unique ending that somehow achieves feel-good status without involving a garter toss.

Janice Page can be reached at jpage22@hotmail.com.

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