Film Review: 'Paradise Now', A Palestinian Mission

Our newest writer for MUSLIMNESS Heba Saeed reviews the movie Paradise Now, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, about two young Palestinian men recruited to carry out a suicide bombing.
*Film spoilers.

palestine move review terrorism suicide bombingParadise Now leaves the viewer in a state of limbo, ironically. We're left with Said, one of the film's central characters, staring with his olive green eyes on the bus which he was once reluctant to board.

My brother didn't relish the film, "لم يستيسغه". He felt it was too surrealistic so as to arouse zeal and excitement, and too vague for the average viewer to understand the depth and history of a country like Palestine.

It did, however, draw my attention to one point. When one goes to Palestinian cinema, he or she usually has a transcendental expectation; one that diminishes the personal side of the story, if not utterly abjure it.

Many viewers, to the result of marketing, anticipate a Palestinian film to be full of rising and falling tones of patriotic soundtracks. The film must have a conspicuous chain of events and a plot that usually ends with the hero or heroine dead or injured; it isn't necessary to expose the daily habits of the characters. The roles in Paradise Now are appointed for one mission, so the film is expected to be a namby-mamby, strict and limited depiction of Palestinians as natives - not as real persons per se.

But the iconoclastic Paradise Now has visibly demolished all the laid-out, and long set-up traditions of Palestinian filmmaking. Not only that, but it belched out many a monotonous fable that may have pleased the ordinary audience with action scenes and dialogue, but would have made the production "just another film".

In Paradise Now we have serious scenes handled with shtick. Most pertinent of which is the scene of combatants recording their will before committing to a recruitment.

One combatant holds a gun, with a backdrop carrying the name of his affiliation and he's supposed to be delivering his last speech to his parents, to his enemies and all. In any other film, that scene would be very solemn, horrific, at least tear-spurring. But not in this one.

After the combatant gives his pre-death statement, they find the camera hasn't recorded anything so he has to reiterate his message and all the while his comrades are devouring sandwiches. The director obviously tried to cast different spots on the scene, to imbue the speech and view of someone who's going to perish by his own will with a nonchalant paltry of everyday life. It shouldn't be outright bodacious. It can be silly, too, blasé, regular and irregular alike. The combatants do not have to wear panoplies or masks; they can don tuxedos too, and shave their heads and appear good-looking and be mistaken as wedding attendants although in they film they're headed for a funeral.

The conscious part of Paradise Now cannot be overshot, too. The fighter Khaled is not an impregnable, impervious body of no appetite for life and no humane second-thoughts of death. He does think and rethink, and doubt the originality and the feasibility of what he's undertaking - a suicide mission.

Khaled's composed belief and his equanimity is shaken when he talks to his love interest, Suha. His enthusiasm is abated, and he starts to question his mission.

The notion ensconced under Suha's most meaningful speech attaches a terroristic substance to the fruit of Said and Khaled's mission. She thinks of resistance (a suicide attack) as another form of submission, acceding to the other by responding exactly the same way. Suha's Morrocan accent is sweet and musical; she is nonchalant and it fits her role as the questioning ego of the heroes.

Said, on the other hand, is still not convinced. So, we the viewers start to question his contumacy; is it inbred? Or is it, as Freud may postulate, a reflex reaction as to what his executed father did for working with the Israelis? He is definitely an affected man.

The father figure is held high by Said's mother who assures him that his role as an ameel, a collaborator, was only for their protection. A theme of treachery still lingers.

Khaled succeedes in presenting the typical zealot passions with the childish demeanour. He behaves in a kind of amiable spontaneity known only of madcaps like him. Said, on the other hand, hold more clarity within himself. He is discreet with others, low-pitched, and shows a little introvertness, unlike his friend.

Paradise Now is a movie to watch, but it ends with many unanswered questions. Said boards the same bus he planned to detonate with a bomb but didn't because of a boarded child. How has he changed? Where is the country heading? We do not know and we do not learn if resistance is merely a brutish process of bartering with violence for no significant outcome, or if it can bring about greater change.

Hany Abu-Assad did a good job making this film. He's worthy of his Golden Globe even if he doesn't believe it. And I believe Paradise Now is for now, not later.

Watch the trailer on YouTube {Paradise Now}.

By Heba Saeed, Palestinian Muslim living in Egypt

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