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November 13, 2005

Paradise Now

In the opening scene of Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad's Paradise Now (IMDB), Said and Khaled attempt to repair a broken-down car. Said is quieter and more serious while Khaled is more playful, but the close friends struggle to get the car running. After working on the car, Said meets Suha, the daughter of a prominent Palestinian martyr. She has come to have her car repaired, and it's clear that there is an instant attraction between Said and Suha. But soon after this initial meeting, Said and Khaled are given a much different task. They are recruited for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, and it's a testament to Abu-Assad's thoughtful approach to this material that Said and Khaled are treated not as mosnters but as conflicted individuals who struggle with the task set before them (in this regard, Paradise Now provides a nice companion piece to The War Within).

The film focuses primarily on the 24 hours before Said and Khaled are slated to go into Tel Aviv. The film shows them recording their good-byes to the families on video, and we see later a video store in Nablus that does a brisk business selling these goodbyes. We also see Said agonizing over this act, asking his best friend whether they are really going to be martyrs who will be rewarded in paradise (and, here, I think Ebert terribly underestimates the doubts that both characters have). We also see Said discuss his doubts with Suha, who is Palestinian but was born in Paris and lives in Morocco, and whose politics seem most aligned with the filmmakers. Suha condemns the suicide bombings and instead condones a response to the Occupation that emphasizes human rights.

While Desson Thomas's review places emphasis on this individual struggle and on the film's innovative use of genre, I found the film's "documentary" feel to be more compelling. As J. Hoberman notes, Paradise was filmed on location in Nablus and in Abu-Assad's hometown of Nazareth, and the traces of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians are everywhere. We see the rubble bombed out buildings, derelict spaces used to train and equip suicide bombers, and more importantly, the wall that divides the two worlds. This division is made even more apparent when Said rides through the streets of Tel Aviv, with its vacationers walking along the beach.

I wish I'd written sooner about this film, or had more time to write about it, because I think it deserves a much wider audience (to be fair it did play to a packed crowd at the Dupont Circle theater where I saw it, so hoopefully it will play for a few more days). For now, I'll point to Cynthia Fuchs' Pop Matters review.

Posted by chuck at November 13, 2005 10:23 PM

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A recent viewing of Paradise Now (From the most unexpected place, comes a bold new call for peace / film website) which was followed up by a discussion between journalist Amira Haas und Kifah Massarwi convinced me that this film (I already had posted ... [Read More]

Tracked on February 1, 2006 3:18 AM


This film sounds like it was modeled on Santosh Sivan's The Terrorist (http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0169302/). I'd recommend it if you haven't already seen it.

Posted by: CM at November 14, 2005 12:43 PM

It sounds like there are some similarities. I'll certainly put "The Terrorist" on my Netflix list. Interesting that The Terrorist was made before 9/11.

Posted by: Chuck at November 14, 2005 1:24 PM

Yes, it was made after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination though.

Posted by: CM at November 14, 2005 1:42 PM

Good point about the film's relationship to history. With The War Within and even with Paradise Now, the films seem clearly targeted towards an American audience (or at least an audience versed in the Amerindie style of filmmaking), even if the latter film is almost entirely in Arabic, so I'd certainly be interested in comparing The Terrorist to these more recent films.

I just spent a few minutes looking at reviews of the film on the IMDB site, and it sounds compelling. There's an interesting review by someone who taught the film in an "Understanding Other Cultures through Cinema" course.

Posted by: Chuck at November 14, 2005 2:06 PM

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