Tunis 1942. Allied planes rain down bombs on the ancient streets of Tunis. Jackbooted Nazi soldiers march through the labyrinth alleys. But the images that stick are the excruciatingly lengthy close-ups of the pubic hair being wrenched off the Jewish teenager for her “Oriental”-style wedding and the shorn vagina ready for delivery to a man old enough to be her father.
“The Wedding Song” (“Le Chant des mariées) – now playing at New York City’s Quad Cinema – is about little girls’ dreams of marriage and the exigencies of war for the chums, now teenagers, one Jewish, one Muslim.
French and Arabic language with English subtitles, beautiful photography of blue-washed Tunisian interiors, touchingly innocent adolescent girls and the desperately poor Jewish mother marrying off her daughter to a wealthy doctor. Filmed almost entirely in close-ups that capture the increasingly claustrophobic world of the two girls.
The second film by French-Jewish director, screenwriter and actress Karin Albou tells the tale of 16-year-olds Nour (Olympe Borval), an innocently romantic Muslim, and her outspoken Jewish friend Myriam (Lizzie Brocheré). Director Albou plays Myriam’s mother.
The pairings are a bit too neat – Nour’s passion for her fiancé; Myriam’s stubborn refusal to accept hers. Nour’s lack of schooling and lack of freedom; Myriam’s more modern existence.
But “The Wedding Song” is worth seeing for the tender depiction of friendship in a hopeless personal world against the bigger hopeless picture of Tunis under attack. It’s a place where Jews and Muslims who have lived together for generations are torn apart, and the Jews who flee back home from Vichy-governed France find life under siege.
To support the film with your seat, catch it while it’s still playing in New York and look for it, hopefully eventually from Netflix.
And ponder what the attraction is for reducing women to the pre-pubescent vagina, hairless as an apricot.
You can see a clip of the film here.