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Paradise Now (A Movie Review)


Starring Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal, Amer Hlehel, Hiam Abbass, Ashraf Barhom and Mohammad Bustami.

Screenplay by Hany Abu-Assad & Bero Beyer.

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad.

Distributed by Warner Independent Pictures. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13.

The day-to-day reality of suicide bombers is so incomprehensible to most of the western world that this film, an exploration of the last 48 hours of two terrorists planning to blow up a bus full of civilians, is fascinating, repugnant, revealing and strangely sad all at the same time.

It is interesting, though, that the two terrorists really are not doing this for a political cause, in fact, honestly, they only slightly grasp the ramifications of their actions. Instead, they are doing it for personal reasons and also for an odd sense of inevitability. They are just living a dead-end life in a depressing town called Nablus on the West Bank, where life and death is cheap. They know that in this world, their sacrifice will lift them to prominence and provide for their families. Said (Kais Nashef) is trying to erase a long-ago family shame while Khaled (Ali Suliman) has fallen into his beliefs almost because they are fashionable and expected in the Palestinian world – it is only when he is finally confronted by the enormity of his act that he really finds out how deeply the conviction has become rooted in his soul.

The convictions that these two men show – for better or worse – only highlight the cowardice of the leaders who are behind the plot, men who casually send their fellow citizens out to their death without the strength or courage to put themselves in harm's way.

Paradise Now is certainly not a comfortable film to watch, but it is surprisingly involving. The actors inhabit these people, inhabit this world, and make their actions not exactly understandable, but somehow inevitable. They allow the audience to see how stunned they are to actually be chosen for a fatal job that they had rashly requested years earlier and considered unlikely with the passage of time. It is particularly bad timing for Said, who is just starting a shy courtship of Suha (Lubna Azabal), the beautiful daughter of a martyred former suicide bomber who realized long ago that she would rather have a father than a martyr.

The politics of the film will, of course, be controversial. Occasional militant speeches by the Palestinians are pointed and contentious – even though they are filmed in a way that diffuses some of the vitriol by showing some of the behind-the-scenes absurdity of the situation; technical filming problems, line flubs and personal messages to their families. Even Suha, the one character who is most militantly against the act of suicide bombing couches her argument in a certain amount of politically arguable anti-Israeli bias. However, while this all may seem like a bit of propagandizing, this is a true reflection of the world that these people inhabit and the belief system they have.

The movie slightly stacks the deck in this by showing the decay of slums of Nablus and yet showing only the tourist areas of Tel Aviv which look more like Miami Beach than the rest of the city. Also, it skirts the fact that the area in which they are planning to attack would much more likely find civilians and tourists than the military. A scene where a corrupt Israeli official helps to smuggle the bombers into Tel Aviv – in a late model BMW and bringing along a date – rings false in a movie which mostly feels completely realistic.

In the end, Paradise Now does not make you feel sympathy for the killers; nor is it meant to. In fact, the film is meant as an indictment of the act, though for dramatic effect writer / director Hany Abu-Assad sometimes plays this agenda so close to the vest that it almost feels like a documentary on the lifestyle. However, it does somewhat humanize the bombers, and gives you an idea of the outside forces and the needs that drive such a desperate, despicable act. It is willing to look at the gray areas in a section of the world and politics where all is gray. (10/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: November 17, 2005.


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