Paradise Now

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Movie Review by Clyde Baehr

Starring: Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal, Amer Hlehel, Hiam Abbass

Director: Hany Abu-Assad

Young Palestinian men Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) are friends living in the West Bank city of Nablus. They are poor and together they drink tea, smoke, discuss life and work as auto mechanics. Things change when Said who is as hopeless in love as he is as a mechanic meets the beautiful Suha (Lubna Azabal) a well off girl with a western education and a car in need of repair. There is the possibility of romance as the two of them instantly build a rapport. Yet this is abruptly ended when Said is approached by Jamal (Amer Hlehel) who informs him that he and Khaled have been chosen to carry out a suicide strike on Tel Aviv. Said and Khaled are ritually prepared for their mission and taken to the boarder. But when a patrol car passes they are split up. Without contact with the others Said must now analyse his beliefs and decide whether to continue with his mission.

The first half of this quirky buddy movie is surprisingly enjoyable; Hany Abu-Assad’s style and tone are at times similar to that of Ken Loach. There is great humour contrasted with stark poverty, strong central performances from its young cast enforced by an ideological message. The cinematography is simple yet speaks a thousand words.

Their preparation for martyrdom is dealt in a sense with the absurd. Taught to believe that martyrdom would bring them respect and admiration changing the world when they leave it, they are instead herded through the process like cattle, watched over (guarded) and given only scraps of information. The moment where they attempt to film their martyr video is both poignant and laugh out loud funny, while one scene where one organisation member eats Khaled’s sandwich lovingly prepared by his mother says it all, they are expendable.

In the second half the issues are bigger yet the film is unequipped to deal with them. By separating the two friends there is not the regular flow of conversation, nor the chemistry and the narrative lags. The quirky attitude is out of place and any attempt at emotion seams forced, PARADISE NOW becomes a dull chase movie with the audience left waiting for the obvious reuniting. Suha’s character is wasted, reduced to the voice of devils advocate and then to weak woman.

With PARADISE NOW director Hany Abu-Assad is telling us that suicide bombers are people too. Unfortunately this does not extent to the Israelis, resorting to simple negative stereotypes; there is the intrusive guard at the border crossing, the man at the bus stop eyeing Said suspiciously, the money hungry informant. For all the film’s posturing as a dialogue on the Israel/Palestine situation it fails to cover many of the issues. Ultimately the entire topic was covered more vigorously earlier this year in MUNICH; which gave more scope for discussion and succeeded in being bias free. The film seems self conscious, not willing to ruffle too many feathers in its own camp and aware also that western audiences are watching. It veers dangerously close to propaganda once or twice when clunky dialogue between characters is more political exposition and demands.

PARADISE NOW could be better and should be better. A film of two halves that will divide audiences.

4 out of 6 stars