Is there a day that goes by anymore where we don’t hear about a suicide bombing somewhere in the world? It seems as though this has become a rejuvenated, popular practice, particularly in the Middle East. We read the headlines and shake our heads, moving on to the next depressing story in our local paper or online new outlet. Who are the men who carry out these missions? Why do they believe that what they are doing is not only right, but will make a difference in the course of history? Most residents of this world do not bother to ask such questions, and perhaps for good reason. It is impossible to defend a suicide bomber’s actions, so why bother?
Writer/Director Hany Abu-Assad tackles such questions in Paradise Now, a film that is not only haunting in its premise, but also in its timeliness. The film is already being tagged as “anti-American” by many here in the States, but make no mistake about it, Abu-Hassad is about as far from a suicide bombing proponent as there is. Paradise Now, as the tagline reads, is in fact a call for peace and a call for logical thinking. In doing so, it is the most suspenseful film of the year in its own subtle way.
Said (Nashef) and Khaled (Suliman) are longtime friends and work together as mechanics in Nablus. Before long they are summoned by Jamal (Amer Hlehel) to carry out a mission calling for each many to blow himself up, fifteen minutes apart from the other in a crowded section of Tel Aviv. The reason? The big picture is in the form of retaliation, but Said and Khaled each have their own reasons for wanting to make the sacrifice.
The religious reasons for suicide bombing are nothing new to those who pay attention to the news. The martyrdom, the virgins, and the ticket to heaven – it’s all covered. Even the martyrdom videos are covered in a scene that is bizarrely funny in the deepest roots of black comedy. How Abu-Assad pulls this off is truly beyond me, but he does. He successfully mocks suicide bombers in an otherwise deadly serious film.
Serving as the voice of reason in the film is Suha (Azabal), a level-headed peace activist who truly believes that the bombs and violence solves nothing. She is close to Said and really only pops up when he is in dire need of moral guidance. She is the voice of the majority of the world, or so one hopes.
The performances are outstanding, starting with the leads. Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman are truly convincing as two men brainwashed by the thoughts of martyrdom and religious rewards. Their turns by the third act are truly sinister as they are shaved, well-groomed, and don explosives under otherwise normal-looking suits. They could walk by you and you’d never think twice. Lubna Azabal is also powerful as the increasingly desperate Suha.
Paradise Now is destined to be misunderstood, and that is a shame. This is a film that should be required viewing for everyone, ranging from the most narrow-minded on up. This is the most powerful film of the year. And the real shame: Palestine is not recognized as a country; hence this film is not eligible for Oscar consideration.
Studio: Warner Independent Pictures
Length: 90 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material and brief strong language.
Theatrical Release: September 2, 2005 (Telluride Film Festival) / October 28, 2005 (NY/LA)
Directed by: Hany Abu-Assad
Written by: Hany Abu-Assad & Bero Beyer & Pierre Hodgson.
Cast: Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal, Amer Hlehel, Hiam Abbass, Ashraf Barhom