Another Man's Paradise
Given the opportunity to ask just one question of a suicide bomber, what would you most want to know? In Paradise Now, director Hany Abu-Assad explores his own curiosity about what makes someone decide that killing themselves for political leverage is a better option than living. He doesn't necessarily provide answers, but his disturbingly realistic portrait of a pair of Palestinian suicide bombers undoubtedly opens a serious dialogue.
The film is set in the occupied West Bank where tit-for-tat violence between Israelis and Palestinians has caused unbearable hardship for citizens on both sides of the conflict. The multinational crew actually filmed many of the scenes in the occupied territories and even faced their own dangers during filming. Israeli missile attacks were a daily occurrence and the kidnapping of their location manager by an armed Palestinian faction required the intervention of former Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat. The dangers pay off in a huge way however as the viewer is given a frightening first-hand sense of the gravitas of the situation. If a film crew with its own security force isn't safe, imagine the insecurity felt by the area's residents.
The acting of Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman is superb throughout the film and seems overtly realistic at times. That could be partly due to what Abu-Assad admits involved placing the actors in surroundings that frightened them so badly there was no need to act anymore. Several scenes are filmed on the actual premises where real-life suicide bombers planned and prepped for their missions.
The film opens with what might very well be the last 48 hours of Said (Nashef) and Khaled (Suliman), two lifelong friends who pass time by sipping tea, and smoking hookah pipes when they're not slaving for peanuts in their crappy jobs as car mechanics. The oppressive poverty and incessant rocket attacks on the city of Nablus provide little opportunity for making a living, much less for harboring dreams of bettering oneself.
Said and Khaled are eventually approached by friend Jamal (Amer Hlehel) who informs them that their day has finally come. As if the weight of the world has been lifted from their shoulders, the two begin an eerie ritual that leads up to the suicide-bombing mission they are to undertake in Tel Aviv. Screenwriter Bero Beyer and director/co-screenwriter Hany Abu-Assad take us into the nuts and bolts of the preparatory phase of the mission. From the clandestine meetings in underground basements where they film their martyr videos to what slightly resembles Christ's last meal (or even that of a condemned inmate before execution), Said and Khaled begin the process of purification before their mission. A morbid sense of humor and pathos tinges the drama as Said and Khaled are interrupted by a camera malfuntion while filming their martyr videos. Abu-Assad admits mimicking reality with this scene in that there's often comedy in the most tragic of real-life moments.
That Abu-Assad and his crew were allowed to film in the political hotbed of the West Bank is a testament to his unbiased treatment of the politics of his film. He's not choosing sides, nor is he trying to sway the viewer. He simply wants to open a meaningful discussion about the real issues at hand. Although the full-scale weight of the Middle East situation seems far too massive to show in one film, Abu-Assad manages to bring a sense of sympathy and understanding to the senselessness of the entire situation. He proves that neither side can claim moral victory because taking any life is not a moral action.
What drives a suicide bomber to commit his act of terror? Generations of poverty and hopelessness with no real sense of amelioration.
(Released by Warner Independent Pictures and rated "PG-13" for mature thematic material and brief strong language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.