Divine Intervention

Movie Review by Neil Ryan

Starring: Elia Suleiman, Emma Boltanski, Amer Daher, Jamel Daher, Nayef Fahoum Daher
Director: Elia Suleiman

Ah yes, what have we got here? Subtitles? Must be a foreign film. But not European – it’s more foreign that that. Not that there’s much call for the subtitles because there isn’t much dialogue: just long meaningful silences. You know the type: just like all that French expressionist malarkey that even Channel 4 has all but given up on. Oh, and the narrative is about as linear as a cut snake, as cohesive as spilt milk. DIVINE INTERVENTION does not have a plot as such. What you get instead is a series of episodic encounters between the inhabitants of your average everyday war-torn neighbourhood. Set in contemporary Jerusalem the film dips in and out of the lives of a variety of residents in order to provide an insight into life in this much-misunderstood region.

Written and directed by Elia Suleiman, the film is strongly autobiographical in terms of emotion, if not incident. The central character is unnamed but is played by Suleiman; he is a sullen Palestinian man living in Jerusalem whose father suffers a heart attack and is admitted to hospital. Thereafter Suleiman is seen silently visiting his father, silently mooching around his apartment, or silently enjoying illicit meetings at the Jerusalem/Ramallah army checkpoint with a Palestinian woman from the Ramallah side.

These main storylines are interspersed with scenes, which emphasize the futility of the region’s conflict by means of simple observant humour (a policeman and his shackled prisoner politely help a young tourist locate places of interest), heavy-handed metaphor (the irrational arguments of feuding neighbours), and fantasy violence (the exploding of an Israeli tank). However, by flitting between intense, light-hearted, low-key, and fantastical moments I think that Suleiman experiments with too varied a canvas. A variety of cinematic influences have been concentrated into a single tableau, thus creating an overly eclectic stew. This means that the brooding thoughtfulness of Suleiman’s character is dissipated when (for example) it is contrasted with the verbally Tarantino-esque ‘sixes’ man, or the bizarre martial arts dream sequence.

DIVINE INTERVENTION is not an easy or entirely successful film then, but it is certainly a good one, and, more importantly, it is a film that provides a rare insight into a region that desperately needs humanising in Western eyes.

3 out of 6 stars

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