On the Bride’s Side (2014)

Although the premise of having Syrian asylum seekers pose as a wedding party on their way to Sweden sounds preposterous enough, On the Bride’s Side is one of the most moving, insightful and emotional films made on the migrant experience, right up there, and perhaps even surpassing, the likes of Journey of Hope and In this World. This documentary/political act begins at a wedding gathering in Milan, Italy where family and friends who have fled the hellhole of Syria by whatever means possible hatch a plot to travel through France, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, and finally (and hopefully), Sweden. Under the shaky premise that no police officer or border guard would ever stop a wedding party, this well-dressed and well-groomed group sets off in a convoy of cars aided by a Italian friends who, if caught, could be sent to prison for long periods of time for human trafficking

The viewer gets to know his/her fellow travelers quite well, although some are more memorable than others. Particularly noteworthy is Manar, a young boy of about 14 who fashions himself a rap artists and whose songs about his miserable life in a Palestinian refugee camp present some of the most forceful scenes in the film. All have stories of life and death and all tell them well. Nothing is forced and although there are speeches given and poems recited, this is not done for the sake of the camera, but rather, as a way of reaffirming their lives and their hopes for a much better and safer future.

In a particularly moving scene, the bride describes putting headphones on and dancing madly in the war-torn town of Syria where is she from, occasionally taking off the headphones as a way of convincing herself that the war is still going on all around her, but more importantly, as a way of making sure that she is still alive. As she states, death is something that happens to other people, but not to you. And then makes this observation: where there is a lot of death there is a lot of life. This outstanding film is most certainly an affirmation of this as well.

Mark Gibney
Asheville, NC
10 December 2015

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