Thursday, February 11, 2010

PIFF Day 1

The 2010 Portland International Film Festival doesn't officially begin tomorrow--but I caught my first film today at a press screening. "The Wedding Song" (9) may be the first Tunisian film I've ever seen--and it is wonderful. It's the second film of director Karin Albou, and is a closely observed portrait of women's lives. It focuses on two 16-year-old girls in Nazi-occupied Tunis in 1942, friends since childhood, one Jewish and one Muslim. Both are poor and both are both oppressed and oppressor. The Muslim girl longs to marry the handsome cousin to whom she is betrothed, but can't until he finds work; the Jewish girl and her widowed mother can't afford the crushing reparation payments assessed by the Nazis, so the mother (played by Albou) promises the girl to a wealthy much-older doctor, a plan that fills the girl with loathing. As the Nazis increasingly foment tension between poor Muslims and the Jewish community, who enjoyed greater access to education and status under French rule, the two girls are pitted against each other. Albou's telling of this story is full of universal insight, and much of its power comes from its concreteness, especially Albou's frank depiction of women's bodily experience of oppression. Aided by riveting performances by the two girls, the film is vivid, tactile, and profound. You can catch it Thursday, February 18 or Saturday, February 20. (In Arabic and French.)

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