-By Doris Toumarkine

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In its depiction of the lives of some Palestinians living in war-torn Israel, Rana's Wedding, a work by Palestinians and Netherlands-based filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad, certainly has some built-in want-to-see. Its appeal is largely that of a rare and voyeuristic peek into a little-seen culture (at least outside the documentary realm).

Abu-Assad has opted for familiar entertainment rather than disruptive controversy (at least until an agit-prop poem epilogue by Mahmoud Darwish) by fashioning a romantic road movie with elements that are more comfort zone than war zone. As such, his story of young, middle-class, East Jerusalem-based Rana (Clara Khoury), who must race against the clock to find and marry her handsome theatre director beau Khalil (Khalifa Natour) before her father relocates to Egypt, will be more soothing than unsettling to most American audiences.

But Rana's journey to matrimony through East Jerusalem and Ramallah, via van or Volkswagen with Khalil and pal Ramzy (Ismael Dabbag) in search of the lawyer and the registrar, is loaded with baggage not her own: countless road blocks and violent skirmishes; ubiquitous armed Israeli soldiers, sometimes bullying, sometimes groping; Palestinian kids throwing rocks; rampant and frustrating delays and bureaucracy at every turn, and constant war-related roadside debris and destruction.

Many of the film's Arab elements are calibrated for these jittery times: The protagonists are familiar, middle-class types. The Muslim heroine visits a place of worship--a small, dark, candlelit chamber adorned with frescoes--that is more church than mosque. And the many shots of the quaint Jerusalem alleyways of stone recall coastal France or Italy. Also, largely Western is the film's fine soundtrack, including an impressionistic piano score.

Indeed, Rana's Wedding is definitely Palestine for Beginners. It's the kind of traditional, happy-to-please filmmaking that has rendered the ritual of moviegoing a universal and largely secular and entertaining experience. There are those who might deem the film more anti-Israeli than pro-peace, but it's the sweet, predictable tale of love conquering almost all that prevails.

As the title suggests, Rana's wedding happens, but it's the location of the ceremony and celebration that provides the film's crowning irony.

-Doris Toumarkine

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