Paradise Now puts a human face on Palestinian suicide bombers.
Refusing to paint the Promised Land in black and white
By Steven Snyder
Deceptively marketed by the movie industry as a bold new call for peace,
Paradise Now, an imported drama of anger, desolation and suicide bombers, thankfully towers above such clichés. It sees peace as one possible course of action, yes, but it is a triumph for a far different reason: It takes us to one of the darker corners of the world and helps us see why, for some, violence resonates when all hope is lost.
The setting is modern-day Palestine, an angry and abandoned land. Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) are two friends, mechanics by trade, who kick back after a long day of work on a tattered couch atop a beautiful hillside. They smoke, drink, talk of women and relax. Then an explosion detonates in the distance, and the world comes crashing back.
Anyone who pays the least bit of attention to international affairs knows the real quagmire of the Middle East is not Iraq, but Israel. The dynamics are as simple to summarize as they are complex to examine, as Israelis and Palestinians keep pushing and pulling against each other in a series of promising peace negotiations that devolve into rounds of bombingsmany of them suicide bombingsand reprisals. Director Hany Abu-Assad, exhibiting a stunning capacity to avoid even the slightest judgment, crafts a stark vision of a world lost to its cyclical demons, forever stuck on repeat and retaliation.
One afternoon, Said and Khaled are approached and told it is their day. They will join the ranks of the martyrs, and become suicide bombers for their cause. This night, they learn, will be their last on Earth, and while Said embraces this opportunity for fame and honor in the afterlife, Khaled is clearly more contemplative and less certain about the mission.
Over their next 36 hours, Abu-Assad paces the film brilliantly as part-thriller and part-social commentary, juggling the two with a rhythm that keeps the pace quick and the message potent. Said and Khaled embark on their mission, but soon things go wrong and their linear mission comes to a crossroads, posing each friend with a choice between life and death.
The films ads might mislead you into thinking that both men turn the same way at this fork in the road, that both realize suicide bombings are wrong and immoral. Nothing could be further from the truth. Another character in the film, Suha (Lubna Azabal), daughter of a long-deceased martyr, satisfies this moralistic line of thinking, decrying murder of any fashion as a waste.
Still, Said and Khaled are not reduced to such simplistic notions. Said is committed to carrying out his mission because he believes Israel has co-opted both sides of the diplomatic debateas both the aggressor and the victimand this perpetual conflict will never abate without extreme measures. Khaleds passion for life is more complex than it may initially appear, borne out of a mix of fear, politics, and, on some level, love for Said. He doesnt want to see his friend die.
The film stumbles at times as it shifts focus between the minute-by-minute mission and the larger discussions of Israel and Palestine, the first story procedural and the other philosophical. But one cannot help but feel admiration for Abu-Assad, who co-wrote the script with Bero Beyer and Pierre Hodgson, for daring to tackle such an audacious project.
Paradise Now is a film that abandons all black-and-white notions of peace or war, painting instead a haunting portrait of a conflict that diplomacy has forsaken. All thats left is desperation and anger, and a few young men who feel they have no other means of making a meaningful difference than shedding their own blood. Are they right? Are they wrong? Abu-Assad doesnt dare answer, but he clearly thinks its time to start talking about it.