Eye For Film >> Movies >> Paradise Now (2005) Film Review
Reviewed by: The Exile
To call Paradise Now a daring film would be an understatement.
So far, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad and his crew have survived Israeli mines, missiles and the kidnapping of one of their members. Even the movie's distributor, Warner Independent Pictures, has been the recipient of verbal assaults and hate mail. But Abu-Assad remains unfased; if you want to get into the mind of a suicide bomber, he claimed in a recent interview, "Research is your best weapon."
Filmed mainly in the West Bank town of Nablus during the 2004 Intifada, Paradise Now is an unsettling - and highly successful - thriller about two impoverished mechanics, Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), who are also members of a terrorist cell. When their leader offers them a suicide mission to Tel Aviv, the film provides a selection of reasons for their acceptance, carefully contrasting the deprivation of their daily lives with the affluence of their target. Negotiating the numerous Israeli checkpoints, the men simmer with impotent rage, and we learn that Said lives with the shame of a father executed for collaboration. The film doesn't so much make a case for grievance as suggest that life in a war zone makes hostility the emotion of default and people themselves, quite literally, explosive.
Abu-Assad, who was born in Nazareth but has spent the last 20 years in Holland, knows that diatribes are not high on the list of the average moviegoer. Unlike many, more experienced directors, he understands the need to be cinematic: if your topic doesn't work as a film, it's not going to work as social, or political, argument. As a result, his controversial decision to place melodrama before morality, while allowing Paradise Now to transcend its hefty (and painfully current) ethical baggage, also allows us to empathise with its conflicted protagonist. Whether this is seen as callous disregard for the victims of such men, or an illumination of the complexities of real human beings, depends entirely on your point of view. What isn't in doubt is the fundamental incompatibility between the thriller format and the demands of fairness. Every time the focus shifts to competing viewpoints - primarily voiced by a cute pacifist (Lubna Azabal), whose own father was a so-called martyr - the tension bleeds from the screen.
Arab terrorism is the focus of several current films, from the high-profile (Steven Spielberg's Munich) to the low (Joseph Costelo's The War Within). Yet, for such a volatile topic, Paradise Now unfolds with hypnotic stillness. Even when things begin to unravel and Said becomes the focus of a nail biting, will-he-won't-he scenario, the film maintains its composure.
Less a rush to self-destruction than a fumbling toward purpose, Abu-Assad's script, co-written with his Dutch producer Bero Beyer, illuminates the details of the men's preparations for celebrity - purification rituals which demand shaving, shearing, prayer and family leave taking. With ghoulish humour, the filmmakers stage an inept taping of the farewell videos, which will join dozens of others in the local video store. And as Said and Khaled set off, their black suits - called "wedding suits" - and white shirts give them the look of Mormon missionaries, or the hit men from Pulp Fiction. Abu-Assad wants us to see that the only thing they're wedded to is death.Reviewed on: 17 Mar 2006