Michel Khleifi took his first steps into the “fiction” genre with a political film deeply rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict situated at a time just before the Palestinian uprising, and which established his international standing. Besides its political charge, this is also (and foremostly) a humanist film. While the creator has clearly taken sides, he is careful to avoid slipping into simple dualism. In order to discuss a fratricidal conflict, it opts for the inverse metaphor: an alliance and a marriage. Hoping to celebrate the wedding of his son in the proper fashion, a Mukhtar (the village patriarch) solicits the Israeli governor to lift the curfew on that particular day, a wish he in turn grants on the condition that he and his staff attend as guest of honour. This situation creates a double-pronged source of tension. Firstly, a tension borne by the village, the family and the couple; secondly, the tension felt among the Israeli soldiers, who are destabilized, victims of a malaise, witnesses to an intimacy both close and threatening. Concentric circles extend from the preparations for the ceremony to the dramatic consummation of the marriage itself; circles of anxiety, tautness, and incidents threatening to escalate. Strangely enough, an overwhelming sensuality is foregrounded by the director. This film is a long way from militant immovability. A Wedding in Galilee displays a great noble-mindedness, built like a Greek tragedy with a powerful and poetic philosophy.
Wedding in Galilee is the first Palestinian film ever to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival. The film has won several awards including the Prix de la critique internationale in Cannes, the Golden Shell in San Sebastian and the Joseph Plateaup Prize – at the time the most important film prize in Belgium.
“For Wedding in Galilee, the idea came to me through the story of a quack doctor who was faced with a newly wed couple unable to make love on their wedding night, creating unbearable tension in a village. From this idea, I wrote a modern tragedy in which two ‘gods’ confront each other, representing two systems, military and modern, one of the Israeli military governor and the other of the patriarchal and archaic authority of the Palestinian Mukhtar, or mayor of the village. As each tries to pull destiny his way, it is the fate of the people of the village that is at stake. The question is: who will win? In this film, for which I also wrote the script, I wanted to erase the boundaries between fiction and reality. The characters came from my imagination but they were played by non-professionals who had been chosen for their fictive resemblance to the scenario’s characters. Here, I was interested in the theme of joyfulness and resilience under occupation.”
“Within the weary group of Arab filmmakers who have worn themselves out by trying to reconcile art and commitment, Michel Khleifi appears as the last romantic, even utopist, who thinks one has to film. It was enough for him to stand by one single point: the function of a filmmaker is not to make propaganda, but to take a just look at just situations and characters. Easy? Not really, when one is Belgian-Palestinian. Difficult even when one is a filmmaker (it’s the idea of the ‘gaze’ that is waning in cinema). That’s why we are happy to bring to mind that which no-one can deny: that cinema is beautiful when it is in the service of dialogue between people.”
“Khleifi appears to hold the conviction that it is not possible to represent the Palestinian nation without recognizing women’s contribution more fully and openly. His work consistently illuminates their ‘hidden’ world, and remarkable women in his films challenge both the official, nationalist narrative and external stereotypes. [...] In much modern Palestinian literature, women’s voices are not heard: there is what could be called a monologic discourse of patriarchy where the male voice dominates and excludes women. The language, even during the Intifada, largely fails to question standard images of women. Khleifi’s work resists traditional stereotypes of Arab women while engaging, to a greater or lesser extent, in a critique of patriarchal society. At the same time he opens up a political space in which women are seen to contribute significantly to the building of the nation. But, if women are to express themselves and resist patriarchal repression, if they are to be strong and to carry the burden of the daily struggle to preserve the family and the nation, and if they are to represent the land of Palestine, then Samia’s question in Wedding in Galilee – ‘where do you find the honor of a man?’ – becomes ever more pertinent. As women become subjects of resistance they cease to function as objects of national symbolism and male honor.”