Saturday, May 06, 2006

Paradise Now

Are we at the Pearly Gates?

Paradise Now was the Palestinian film which won the Golden Globes this year for best foreign language film, and it's no wonder to see why it did. Touching on very real, contemporary and the sensitive issue about the relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it takes on the much talked about and feared weapon of terrorists / freedom fighters, that of the suicide bomber.

And for that, I applaud the movie's take and narrative, which treads the very fine line and provides the audience aspects from both ends of the spectrum. The introduction is nicely set up, that the Israelis view the Palestinians with suspicious eyes, while it is the case of contempt the other way around. It doesn't set out to glamourize dastardly deeds, but presents a more intimate look into the making of a martyr, the motivations behind those who have willed themselves to political suicide, as well as presenting arguments for a more peaceful resolution through negotiations.

Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) are childhood friends living in the city of Nablus. They're essentially the working class, and on the surface, your average joe with non extremist views, living in a city where explosions are common everyday events. But before you know it, it's revealed that they are freedom fighters living a life of normalcy, and beneath the happy-go-lucky facade, they're ever ready to die for their cause. This movie humanizes the anonymous faces we often see in the news, thereby drawing flak from certain circles.

A chance presents itself, and the two of them are assigned to an unnamed group's latest and largest operation in 2 years, a bombing in Tel Aviv. Here's where things are interesting, as rituals are presented as the duo prepare themselves for their appointment with Paradise.

And this movie doesn't hold back in making fun of precisely this sacred promise of going to Heaven after the violent act of murder is committed. Watching it being presented through dialogue by their chief operative, makes you wonder how gullible and easily manipulated would-be martyrs can be. But just as you're ready to generalize the simplistic behaviour of suicide bombers, the movie's third act will arrest you with a twist that deeply explores the agendas, personal vendettas and the likes, which transcend all reasons and logic, providing more than enough fuel for motivation.

Worry not though that the movie will be heavy in theme. There are adequate light hearted moments to break the seriousness, and interesting visual details like the handless bomb-maker, puts things into certain perspective. Or that tongue-in-cheek reference to The Last Supper as well.

The ending was superb. My guess is many weaned on Hollywood will not come to appreciate it as it yanks the carpet from under your feet. Those who are accustomed to big, loud explosions might find it puzzling. But I thought it was a brilliant way to end it, a silent purposeful statement that continues throughout the end credits, stripping away any glamour of violence, whatever the cause, reason or rationale used to justify it.

Paradise Now is a film rooted in realism despite its fictional storyline. It is without the usual glitz associated with recent films touching on the subject (Syrianna comes to mind) and makes perfect use of its smaller scale to tell a more intimate, but no less powerful, story.

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