Wednesday, January 04, 2006

#30: On Hany Abu-Assad’s PARADISE NOW * 11/17/2005 * Last Saturday afternoon, Manlius Cinema cancelled their three o’clock matinee showing of Hany Abu-Assad’s new film, PARADISE NOW, because they lacked the minimum four ticket-buyers. I thought this wasn’t a good sign for this movie’s local prospects, even though it had miraculously shown up in Central New York barely a week after its US release date of November 4th, in itself almost unheard of. Then, Sunday night’s audience was skimpy. Grimly, I advised a few friends that if they wanted to see this film, deservedly well-received & anticipated elsewhere, they should make it this week. I’m pleased that this morning’s paper announces PARADISE NOW will be at Manlius at least one more week. This film had a hard birth to begin with. Other reviewers mostly attach the word “risky” to it, because the task Abu-Assad has set is so difficult – unintelligible to some, even – in these times of for-us-or-against-us thinking. Set in the West Bank town of Nablus, this story of two Palestinian suicide bombers’ final day after getting their mission orders to target Tel Aviv was risky artistically & cinematically, yes, but pretty risky on the ground too. Abu-Assad’s 25 days filming on location in Nablus were so riddled with harassment & competing suspicions from Israelis, various Palestinian factions and actual run-ins with real incidents of street fighting & raids, that part of his European crew quit. He was forced to move filming for the final 15 days to the relative quiet of Nazareth. Safely in the can & on-screen, PARADISE NOW illustrates that accounting for reprehensible behavior does not equal excusing it. Young Palestinians Said (played by Kais Nashef) and Khaled (played by Ali Suliman), are long-time friends, fellow car mechanics & terrorist foot soldiers. They’ve asked that when they’re sent on their suicide assignments, they may go together. Plans go awry when they try to slip over the border, disguised as Israeli settlers with explosives strapped around their torsos. And mid-way through the story, the two young men convincingly switch roles of true believer and skeptic. Tellingly, the story begins with Suha (played by Lubna Azabal), a young woman who’s just returned to the West Bank after years abroad. There is some spark of warmth between her & Said, enough to make him hesitate. The daughter of a revered Palestinian “martyr,” Suha tries to dissuade their mission. We see that this is, after all, an old war is such personal ways. As a surviving daughter, Suha asks what becomes of those left behind – those left alive, that is. And the outcome turns on Said’s struggle with his own demons as someone’s son. A word about the cinematography & editing, by Antoine Heberle’ & Sander Vos, respectively. There is excellent physical acting in this film – so right & consistent in a film that’s about how words have faltered & come up so short. But this is supported, as nearly as I can tell, by a series of nearly flawless decisions about how to unobtrusively film each scene from the best distance & then edit them all so the action conveys a rightness about the march of time – the count-down, really. There are several scenes where Said runs for some distance that are wonderful – he has a rangy elegance that puts me in mind of Yeats’ line, “Both beautiful, one a gazelle.” These are as effective as the more noticed scenes depicting the rituals of the bombers’ last meal, the video-taped speech, and Said & Khaled’s eerie transformation into very passable Isrealis. After last summer’s London subway bombings, Boston film critic Martha Bayles urged her “Serious Popcorn” blog readers to see Indian director Santosh Sivan’s THE TERRORIST, a 1999 film whose approach is similar and whose ending is identical to PARADISE NOW. That film was about a lesser-known insurgency, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, but it illustrates my hunch about PARADISE NOW – that the arguments of the specific politics are less compelling that the human cost when the blast arrives. Maybe PARADISE NOW had bad timing. After all, it regrettably opened in Central New York on Veterans Day. A second strike against it was the triple hotel suicide bombing in Amman, Jordan last Wednesday, two days before its opening here. We may have little taste for such tales right now, but unless we seek understanding we’re likely to make little progress to peace. * Nancy Keefe Rhodes * (725)