"The Wedding Song" is a unique and credibly acted movie directed by Karin Albou. The setting is 1942 Tunis, and the Nazis are occupying the country. Just like the rest of Nazi-occupied territories, anti-Jewish propaganda is rampant. The native Tunisian Muslims, who have been oppressed under the French colonialists, are given leaflets that encourage their cooperation whilst persuading them that the Allies do not have their best interests at heart. There is great poverty everywhere, and the movie basically focuses on two girls - Nour (Olympe Boval) is a Muslim girl who comes from an impoverished family and Myriam (Lizzie Bochere) is a Jewish teenager who is being raised by her widowed seamstress mother. The girls have been best friends since their childhood, their houses share the same courtyard and they are both poor. However, there is one great difference - the French had carried out a policy of divide and conquer, allowing only the non-natives access to education and positions in government. As a Jew, Myriam has received an education, whereas Nour by virtue of her ethnicity and being a female, has been deprived of schooling. Myriam is free to walk wherever she pleases, unveiled but Nour, as a Muslim woman, needs to veil herself and can only go out if she is chaperoned (still practiced in many Middle Eastern countries).
Despite these differences, the two girls share a very close bond, one that is threatened by the Nazi invasion and subsequent policies. Slowly, the girls find their religious differences to be a barrier that threatens their friendship. Nour's fiance Khaled (Najib Oudghiri) is poor and unemployed, and Nour's father refuses to allow their marriage because of this. Out of desperation and resentment towards the Jews, Khaled works for the Nazis as a translator and collaborates in looting Jewish property. In the meantime, Myriam finds herself being forced into an arranged marriage to a much older and wealthy doctor, Raoul (Simon Abkarian). Myriam's mother sees this as the only means for them to escape poverty. Myriam wishes to marry for love, like Nour, but finds there are no viable options for her, especially when the Nazis demand a 200 million francs payoff from the Jewish community.
The movie effectively captures the complex friendship between the two girls through the ups and downs. The girls' bonds are sorely tested by circumstances and the politics of the time, yet Myriam covers for Nour when she arranges clandestine meetings with Khaled, and Nour helps Myriam when the Nazis come for the Jews. The girls' maturation is also credibly portrayed as they become more aware of the men in their lives - Nour comes to realize that though Khaled may be her great love, he has his flaws; and Myriam comes to realize much later that Raoul is not the monster she imagines him to be.
The movie is also a rich source of information about the customs and rituals of womanhood - Nour and Myriam go to the hammam (a bath house for women); Myriam has to undergo the torturous process of having her pubic hair removed by wax prior to her marriage (performed by an older woman and portrayed in graphic detail); and, on her wedding night, Nour's husband is expected to present evidence that Nour is a virgin by showing the blood-stained sheet from the marital bed.
There is one scene in the movie which I found to be compelling in the message it delivers about religious harmony. "The Wedding Song" is a thoughtful reflection upon friendship, and womanhood, and I was absolutely captivated by it.