Paradise Now (الجنّة الآن)
Made in: Palestine (Region of the West Bank currently under Palestinian Authority)
Language: Arabic, English
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Starring: Kais Nashif, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal, Amer Hlehel
Synopsis: In the town of Israeli-occupied city of Nablus, located in the West Bank, Said (Kais Nashif) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) are two lifelong pals who barely get by repairing cars for a living. Through their mutual friend Jamal (Amer Hlehel), Said and Khaled have volunteered to be suicide bombers.
When called upon by a terror cell to sneak into Israel and target a military checkpoint in Tel Aviv, the reality of what is about to happen begins taking an unexpected psychological toll on the protagonists.
Moreover, Said begins falling for Suha (Lubna Azabal). Suha is a young, progressive Moroccan woman whose own father was a proud suicide bomber (and Said's former boss). However, she is staunchly opposed to this rather unproductive method of asserting Palestinian independence and is in favor of more peaceful means of achieving this goal.
When the bombing plans go awry, Said and Khaled become separated. While trying to regroup with their cell, they must avoid getting caught as well as accidentally triggering the generous amounts of C4 strapped to their bodies.
And all the while, they must decide whether or not they want to go through with the bombing at all.
The Good: Writing as an American who despises terrorism of any kind and respects the political relations between the US Government and Israel, I felt that director Hany Abu-Assad (who is passionate about Palestinian independence) and co-producer Amir Harel (who's a Jewish Israeli) handle this highly controversial subject in a pretty even-handed way.
Although the would-be bombers in Paradise Now are depicted as human beings and sympathetic characters, the film in no way condones terrorism.
No groups are caricatured, and the story focuses on the ordinary people whose lives are affected by political/cultural/ethnic tension. For those of us who have only experienced the Arab-Israeli conflict on CNN, Paradise Now offers a pretty eye-opening look at life in the region.
The Bad: Although both Ali Suliman and Nais Nashif do a great job carrying the film, they only come across as mildly annoyed and unhappy with their living condition. They seem more like a Palestinian version of Kevin Smith's Clerks rather than ideal "martyr" material.
And although the audience is meant to sympathize with the moderate views of the character played by Lubna Azabal, it would have given the film a bit more power if specific strategies of doing so had been mentioned.
Who would like this movie: You'll appreciate Paradise Now if you're well-informed of Israeli-Palestinian history, keep up with current events, and if you're willing to be objective when evaluating both sides of this conflict.
However, for those who have been affected by the horrific actions of suicide bombers, this film will definitely (and understandably) elicit strong emotional reactions. In other words, you may end up hating this movie.
Although very well produced and well-paced, this is definitely one of those foreign films that does not contain the "slickness" that we may traditionally associate with Hollywood movies. In fact, I don't believe there's even much (or any) kind of music score. The strength of the story is purely from its subject matter and performances.
It should be noted that this is the first Palestinian film to be nominated for an Oscar. Also, production was affected when an Israeli helicopter fired on a vehicle that happened to be near the shooting location. A Palestinian extremist group also kidnapped the film's location manager, who was only released when the office of then-president Yasser Arafat intervened.
(3 stars out of 4)
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