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Arts & Culture

Paradise Now

Paradise Now spans 27 hours in the lives of two young Palestinian men. Said and Khaled are friends employed at a small garage. After work, the two share tea on a hillside overlooking Nablus, their West Bank city, which is surrounded by Israeli checkpoints. Its at one of these checkpoints where we meet Suha, a well to do Palestinian born in France. Suha tolerates but doesnt like having her bags searched by Israeli soldiers.

CLIP Checkpoint SFX zipper opened on luggage

But Suha does take a liking to Said, who was born in a refugee camp and is from the opposite end of economic spectrum from her. Their differences are set in bold relief when Suha questions Said about what movie genre he prefers.

CLIP Suha and Said talking

Said asks if theres a genre for boring, one that reflects what his life is like. In that moment we sense one of the things that will drive Said to accept a mission as a suicide bomber. Its not so much that hes bored but rather that he feels without hope. He sees Nablus as a prison with the Israelis as the wardens. He cannot imagine a future where he can live with dignity and in his mind a life without dignity is worthless.

CLIP Said talking

Said and Suha have very different views on life, but they both must live with the legacy left by their fathers. Suhas father was a hero who died for the Palestinian cause. But she would rather have him alive than to be proud of his memory. She passionately insists that the only way to peace is through dialogue.

CLIP Suha arguing in car

Violence, she says, only gives the Israelis an alibi to do whatever they want to the Palestinians. Said, on the other hand, must cope with the fact that his father was a collaborator who was executed.

CLIP Prayers

Saids decision to become a suicide bomber is in part motivated by his fathers dishonorable death. Said along with Khaled are chosen for a mission in Tel Aviv, which, theyre told, will be in retaliation for the recent killing of two Arabs. In a stunning sequencewith only a group prayer on the soundtrackdirector Hany Abu-Assad shows the two men being bathed, purified and given a final meal by the guerrilla group. The sequence typifies the effectively spare, low-key style of the film.

CLIP More of the prayers

One of the surprises of the film is the way Abu-Assad finds humor in his story. In the early scenes, its the humor of coping with the grind of daily life, be it arguing with customers or not having enough money to tip. Later he finds unlikely humor in a scene about the mission being aborted. Khaled has the bomb removed from his body

CLIP Tape pulled off

And complains that pulling the tape off hurts. Then hes reminded that it was never meant to be removed.

CLIP Screams again

Paradise Now offers a rare opportunity to see the world from a Palestinian perspective. The only other Palestinian film to receive any distribution of note in San Diego was the poetic and whimsical Divine Intervention. That film suggested that if theres ever to be peace in the Middle East, there must be an attempt to understand all sides. Abu-Assads film, despite its stylistic differences, argues the same point. In the media press kit, Abu-Assad says that as a Palestinian he wants to know more about people like Said and Khaled.

HANY ABU-ASSAD: Film allows you to go somewhere you cant go. I tried to follow people that you wouldnt normally be able to follow. I want the film to open the discussion, and I hope this discussion will allow you, wherever you are in the political spectrum, will I hope allow you to reconsider your ideas.

Abu-Assad doesnt give us a fully satisfying answer as to what prompts people to terrorismand maybe thats because one doesnt exist. But he does give us insights. He draws much of his information from a lawyer who defended suicide bombers that had failed in their missions. From this research he fashions a story that lets us see what can influence someone to go through with a suicide mission and what might change his mind. At one point, Said must contemplate changing targets, and considers blowing up a bus.

CLIP SFX bus pulls up

But the sight of a young child makes him hesitate. As the bus pulls away, Saids face moves revealingly from the shadow into the light. Abu-Assad understands that it would be easy to make Said and Khaled evil, fanatical villains. But Abu-Assad wants something more shaded. He doesnt condone the actions of terrorists but he wants to put a human face on them, and thats controversial. But if we dont try to understand what drives people to commit terrorism, how can we ever hope to stop it? You can fight terrorism with weapons but so long as there are people who feel they have no voice and who live without hope of change, there will always be fertile soil for terrorism to grow. Paradise Now is a film that scratches the surface of these complex issues, and begins to give voice to the Palestinian viewpoint. -----