x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The big, fat costly weddings of Comoros

One Saudi filmmaker's Grand Marriage delves into the colourful world of the world's longest wedding celebrations

A still from Grand Marriage by Saudi documentary maker Faisal Al-Otaibi. Gulf Film Festival
A still from Grand Marriage by Saudi documentary maker Faisal Al-Otaibi. Gulf Film Festival

For many of us, the words "wedding" and "video" might bring up memories of grainy, wobbly footage of someone's grandmother dancing overenthusiastically to 1980s pop classics while an uncle gorges himself on vol-au-vents in the background. Granted, this is a rather western image and certainly not something you'd consider documentary-worthy. In Comoros, however, things are a little different, as anyone who's had a chance to see Grand Marriage by the Saudi filmmaker Faisal Al Otaibi will understand.

Despite having a population of less than one million, of which half are believed to live under the poverty line, this tiny archipelago between Mozambique and Madagascar is home to arguably the most impressive wedding festivities in the world, with celebrations often lasting two weeks.

Al Otaibi's Grand Marriage, which screens today at the Gulf Film Festival, follows one of these lengthy wedding celebrations.

"It's actually a status thing," explains Al Otaibi, a Saudi documentary-making veteran of 10 years. "For example, in the mosque the groom can only stand in the first line if he's had a grand marriage, otherwise he would be at the back. He can only wear certain elements of the national dress if he's had a grand marriage."

The couple featured in Grand Marriage were actually first married 20 years ago, says Al Otaibi. "But this is the real celebration."

Steeped in tradition, the two-week long festivities take over the entire village, with different celebrations on each day. "It starts with the groom going from his family's house to the house of his wife's family, going through the village with people dancing," says Al Otaibi. "After that they get ready to receive people from other houses around."

But a two-week-long party in Comoros doesn't come cheap. "The groom told me that he had spent all of his money, more than €20,000 [Dh96,000] on the wedding," says Al Otaibi. "In Saudi, of course, weddings are expensive. But it seems in poorer countries they cost more."

Grand Marriage screens at Grand Cinemas 9, Dubai Festival City at 2.15pm today

aritman@thenational.ae

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