#254 Paradise Now
(2005, Hany Abu-Assad)
“You cannot alter your fate. There is no other way. It’s God’s will.”
There are few political subjects as touchy as the Israeli-Palestine conflict, which has been raging for an exceptionally long time. I’m not going to sit here and pretend to know a lot about it, since much of the information about the conflict is confusing and it’s hard to know what’s what within the whole situation. So perhaps a movie from the Palestinian perspective might help. Enter Paradise Now, a movie about reluctant suicide bombers in the region.
This will be the second movie I’ve reviewed that focused on suicide bombers, and it’s probably equally as controversial as Four Lions, albeit for very different reasons. While Four Lions used suicide bombings as a framework for a modern caper comedy, Paradise Now is an attempt to show the human side of these attacks.
Since I’m not all that knowledgeable on the political situation that the film has spawned from, I’ll be focusing on the movie as a piece of drama rather than the political arguments it raises. This is going to be a tricky one.
The movie focuses on childhood friends Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), who have been recruited by an unnamed terrorist group to perform suicide bombings in Israel. Over the next couple of days, they prepare for the attack, while a woman named Suha (Lubna Azabal) attempts to convince them to back out.
This was an uncomfortable film to watch at times. Sometimes this was due to political reasons and other times because of technical reasons. Let’s detail the technical reasons, shall we?
Paradise Now is a very slow film. It’s a film that asks questions but often lingers on those questions for a long time without ever really answering them. It’s a movie that has a very short running time, but feels longer. Scenes such as the duo’s initial failed attempt at their mission were especially bad, where the duo just kind of hang around for long periods of time. There’s so little tension in this portion of the movie, but it acts as if it’s trying to create some, and it’s a little frustrating to watch.
It also felt very difficult to connect with the two leads. While the performances weren’t bad, they did feel very flat, which probably didn’t help with the slowness of the movie. I often didn’t feel like we got much insight into the personality of either of the two, and this made the movie as a whole feel very distant and clinical. For a movie that was trying to make us sympathise with suicide bombers and their reasons for getting involved in these things, this lack of connection meant the movie often struggled to achieve this goal.
But it did have its good points. Azabal was excellent as Suha, and I really loved her character and wanted to find out more about her. Her role as the duo’s conscience was interesting, but I wanted more of her story too, if nothing else but to balance things out a little.
I also liked the crossover of feelings the two leads experienced during the movie. While Khaled starts out as more enthusiastic about the whole process, it’s Said who ultimately ends up taking the lead on the matters at hand. I liked this switch and consider it my favourite element to the entire movie.
Aside from that, however, I wasn’t entirely sold on Paradise Now. It was certainly an interesting look into the Palestinian conflict and a nice attempt at humanising suicide bombers, but the movie as a whole felt so flat that it was hard to get too drawn in. Worth a watch if you’re curious but overall nothing particularly exciting or interesting.
Starring Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal & Hiam Abbass
Written by Hany Abu-Assad, Bero Beyer & Pierre Hodgson
Produced by Bero Beyer
Music by Jina Sumedi
Cinematography by Antoine Hérberlé
Edited by Sander Vons
Favourite Scene: Pretty much anytime Suha acted as the voice of reason.
Scene That Bugged Me: When the duo are roped into the attack, they get their heads shaved and I no longer recognised them. This didn’t really help with the lack of empathy.
Watch it if: You’re interested in the central conflict
Avoid it if: You want greater character exploration than we’re offered here