Monday, March 23, 2009

Movie Review: Lady Kul el-Arab

A beautiful, dream-filled 17 year old defies her conservative Druze community and enters a beauty contest where she sees a chance to become an international professional model. The Druze community see carnal shame. Her immediate family objects, but they decide to support the young lady once her decision is made. The fireworks begin when an uncle and accomplices are arrested for plotting her murder, her father robs a gas station to pay for his daughter's pageant trip to India, and she and her family are called before the tribal council.

The real issue of this movie is the individual versus the tribe. Because this occurs in the context of a beauty contest, feminist side arguments tend to obscure the core tribal issue, which would be the same, for example, for a gay man deciding to live an openly gay life in an anti-gay tribal community. In the end, the young girl relents and obeys the tribal dictates, choosing the security of tribal membership over ostracism via an irreversible leap of faith into an alternate world of individual achievement.

This was not the story the director -- herself a beautiful young woman -- started out to make, but it is the story that happened. Thus it is full of oddities, ambiguities, and strange twists. Despite a temptation to dismiss the movie as the story of a silly girl, it worth seeing as great food for argument, and for images we don't often see of the Israeli-Arab world.

The director, Ibtisam Mara'ana, was present for an extended discussion on Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at Isenberg 137, UMass.

(Israel, 2008, 56 min, in Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles)

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