All that is reported in the media about Yemen is that it is involved in a murderous civil war and that a shocking number of innocent civilians are being killed and threatened with starvation and death by disease. 10 Days Before the Wedding, the first Yemeni-made film to open commercially in Yemen, is a romantic-comedy. Although the conditions it shows are harsh, the film is a reminder that Yemeni citizens are trying to get on with their lives.
Director Amr Gamal sent me a message to explain that “Because the cinema halls in Yemen were destroyed in successive wars in 1986, 1994 and 2015, we have had to rent wedding halls to show the film. It has been a huge surprise that over 60,000 tickets have so far been sold.” The entire budget for the film was $30,000. To put this into perspective, during the 2018-2019 award screening season, some of the bigger distribution companies spent more than $50,000 for a single screening and sit-down meal reception for the foreign language films they were pushing.
10 Days Before the Wedding takes place in Aden, the fourth most populous city in Yemen. In 2015, the Battle of Aden took the lives of hundreds of locals and even more died from diseases spread by the deteriorating conditions in the city. Several times during the film, characters use phrases such as “since the war ended,” while others respond that “the war is not over.” The film makes clear that although the fighting in Aden ended three years ago, its economy is still suffering and much of the city is still covered in rubble.
Because of power outages and cellular phone network failures, the crew sometimes had to inform the actors of the shooting schedule by visiting their homes in person.
Rasha and Ma’moon are in love and tried to get married three years ago, but they had to cancel their wedding because of warfare. Now they are trying again. However, with ten days to go, everything begins to go wrong again. Ma’moon loses his job. He also has to vacate his parents’ home to turn over his room to a sister who is moving back in because of divorce. Rasha continues to shop for her wedding outfit, and she and Ma’moon look for a hall to rent for the ceremony. And they travel around the bombed-out city looking for an apartment to rent.
Meanwhile, Saleem, the wealthy villain who is the landlord of Rasha’s family, falls in love with Rasha and threatens to evict the family unless they cancel the wedding and turn over Rasha to marry him instead. Disheartened by his inability to find work and earn a living, Ma’moon concedes that maybe it’s better that he give up trying to marry Rasha. But not for long, of course.
Surprising as it may seem, 10 Days Before the Wedding is not the first Yemeni feature film to be submitted to the Academy Awards. In 2016, Yemen entered I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced, the title of which speaks for itself.