The Mother of the Bride – Screwball Comedy from Egypt, 1967

Comedies of family life have been a regular feature of movies and television in the US from the 1950s right down to today.  From Jackie Gleason and Audry, Ricky and Lucy with no kids, to Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best with cute, sometimes mischievous kids viewers enjoyed watching beleaguered men try to stay in charge while wives took care of everything that mattered.   Sometimes the kids bossed each other around, sometimes got into trouble.  Dad was besieged with money worries, mom was always to the go-to-gal.  It seems the same was true in Egypt.

Mother of the Bride from 1963 is  cut from the same cloth. Father Hussein, a mid-level government functionary, with enough time on his hands to produce 7 children, from marriageable age to a suckling child, is besieged by the racket in the house, the demands of his wife to pitch in and deal with the kids before she explodes.  The eldest daughter sees, is introduced to, becomes betrothed and married to a young man in less than a month.  The  second daughter, caught up in the wedding planning – and slightly wider dating parameters with an engaged sister–  follows in the same path, and begs permission to be married just as the nuptials of the first are finished.

Money, virtue, money, family insults, childhood behavior, money are the main markers of a mildly amusing movie. We are taken by many similarities of US movies we may have seen, and struck by the differences. Three younger kids share a triple bunk bed. The two older girls share a room. The teen-age boy is gunning to be in charge of family morals and the four year old is cute and obnoxious – like one of the Spanky and Our Gang kids – asking for a piaster for anything he does.  Mom and Dad make side comments to the kids about the other. “Your mother is hot-tempered.  She must have some Turkish blood in her!”

I suppose the most striking thing to an American audience will be the high decibel level of family discourse. Everything, it seems, is carried on in shouts – from the mother, to the small-fry. It’s sort of like child-rearing by verbal assault, though perhaps not that far from ideas we might have about Italian, Irish or Jewish immigrants in our movies.  And I was struck, that in a 1963 movie, Egypt or elsewhere, that the mother would be shown pulling her breast out to feed the child.  It was quick, but it was there.

Besides the lightning fast engagement party arranged by the groom’s parents with a formal visit to the bride-to-be’s house – with her OK, as this is a liberal household– the most memorable scene is when the grooms’ family re-visits to complain about the cheapness of the bride’s father in getting the new apartment furnished. We have already seen mother, father and daughter in department stores, he approving of the cheaper goods while mother, once he walks away, orders the more expensive. The groom’s mother, father and aunt show up and abuse the bride’s family, with threats of withdrawing the engagement unless things get better fast. It’s a memorable little bit, even if over-done.

We learn that, at least in those years, the groom’s family paid a dowry, or bride price, in cash, to the bride’s father who  is then responsible for setting the couple up. Papa Hussein is stretched to the limit, and after the abusive visit, figures out that a temporary loan from some government funds in his safe will see him through. Of course the anxiety of getting caught becomes part of the story – right thorough to the wedding night. Every thing ends happily, as such films must and will plenty of ululating by the women, as this is a movie from Egypy

Atef Salem, with32 films to his credit, including the noirish  Struggle on the Nile, reviewed here earlier, put together a good cast and handles the fast moving action inside the house quite well — people coming and going in and out of the frame in a kind of synchronized chaos.  At one point a goat and some chickens join the parade.

Taheya Carrioca who plays Zeinab, the mother, was one of Egypt’s great leading ladies, with 59 some film roles before her death in 1999.  Imad Hamdi, as Hussein the father, was even more employed with 96 titles to his name.

As is true with most of these Arabic language movies I’ve been watching, the main reason in 2011 to watch them is curiosity about how the other half live, as it were.  The world is so much smaller now than 50 years ago.  We can hear and see our neighbors much more clearly but we still have some last century ideas about who they are and what kind of devils they are.  Movies are just one way to begin to dissolve the knots on those ideas and be more ready to acknowledge them as another bunch pretty much like we are, warts and all, weddings and all, distraught fathers and all.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *