A poignant look at an arranged marriage

Times Staff Writer

Sometimes a wedding is more like a funeral for a young woman’s hopes and dreams.

Director Sherine Salama’s documentary, “A Wedding in Ramallah,” airing tonight at 10 on KCET as part of the station’s “Independent Lens” series, offers viewers an intimate look at Palestinian married life, a grim vision that will be difficult for the average American woman to stomach.

The film begins with Bassam Abed, a Palestinian American, returning to his hometown of Ramallah for his arranged marriage to 25-year-old Mariam, a traditional village woman chosen by his family.

Things seem hopeful at first. “I’m hoping to do the best I can to make her happy,” Bassam says. But everything goes downhill fast.


Bassam showers his bride with gold and goats. After the ceremony, Mariam moves in with Bassam’s family and Bassam returns to America while the couple waits for Mariam’s visa.

In her new home, Mariam’s sister-in-law, Sinora, clings to her desperately. Sinora married Bassam’s brother at age 15 in an arranged marriage and has been waiting for eight years for him to bring her to America.

“A woman’s life without her husband is worthless,” says the miserable Sinora, whose husband visits about once a year, just long enough to get her pregnant.

Bassam, unlike Sinora’s husband, fulfills his promise to bring Mariam to America and his filthy apartment, where he tells her, “I left the washing for you.”


Baffled by the smoke alarm and unable to dial the phone, Mariam cooks and cleans and waits for Bassam to come home. When he finally arrives after 10 p.m., he demands his slippers and dinner, watches wrestling on TV and falls asleep on the couch.

It appears that Mariam has traded the unrest of the West Bank for the banalities of American married life circa 1950 (except that she can’t speak English, drive a car or work any modern appliances).

This look at the intimate side of Palestinian life, both in the Middle East and here, is fascinating but not pleasant. Salama’s film illuminates a culture that appears maddeningly misogynistic. Hoping for a new life after her wedding in Ramallah, this bride instead got a dead-end.