Suicide bombers as ordinary people

December 23, 2005|By MICHAEL HILL | MICHAEL HILL,SUN REPORTER

Perhaps the best aspect of Paradise Now is its lack of ambition.

If this film about two would-be Palestinian suicide bombers had tried to be the last word on why people resort to this tactic, it probably would have come off as a didactic exercise in overwrought tedium.

Instead, director and co-writer Hany Abu-Assad settled for using this provocative theme as the central element in a rather straightforward adventure story.

Certainly it has its teaching moments - and these are the ones that slow it to a crawl - but for the most part, Paradise Now maintains a rather brisk pace, keeping you wondering what's going to happen next more effectively than a lot of high-budget features.

Understand going in that Paradise Now is telling this story from the Palestinian perspective. There is nothing about the Israeli victims - actual or potential - of these suicide attacks. For some, that makes it, by definition, distorted and biased.

But it is also telling this story from a perspective rarely, if ever, seen on the screen. And it is far from an apologia for suicide attacks. It raises all of the appropriate questions - strategic, tactical and ethical - about the efficacy and morality of strapping explosives to the chest of a young man and sending him into the midst of a bunch of people to blow himself up.

Abu-Assad is Palestinian. While Paradise Now may be considered controversial for not making its protagonists into villains, it might be even more controversial in Arab countries, where it brings into question treating these bombers as heroes.

Filmed on location on the West Bank, Paradise Now is set in Nablus. It focuses on two young men, Said (Kais Nashef )and Khaled (Ali Suliman), good friends who work as auto mechanics in a scruffy outdoor garage in this vibrant but desolate city.

Khaled is the hot-headed one. Said is the quiet and thoughtful type. Nashef is particularly effective, giving Said a feeling of existential aimlessness reminiscent of Meursault, the main character in Camus' The Stranger.

Said's brooding good looks attract the attention of Suha (Lubna Azabal), a beautiful young woman with a very unreliable Peugeot. Her recent entry into the West Bank - a search conducted while an Israeli soldier aimed a rifle at her - is the only real evidence of the Israeli occupation that forms the unseen backdrop to the story, the alleged reason for the need for such violent resistance.

The relationship between Said and Suha is the one real sour note of the film. It is there purely so that she - the daughter of a martyred militant - can argue against suicide tactics while he - whose family background is ironically different - can take the other side. Not exactly the basis for a hot romance.

Said and Khaled are informed that they have been chosen for a suicide mission into Tel Aviv. They react with predictable, but evocative, conflicting emotions. The strongest scenes in Paradise Now capture the rituals designed to propel them toward their violent death, much like prisoners heading from death row to their execution.

The banality is effectively revealed when Khaled, AK-47 and Quran in hand, gives his last testament for the video camera - tapes that are sold in West Bank convenience stores. As he finishes his emotional monologue, Khaled is told that the video camera didn't work and is asked to try it again.

Their mission meets with complications that propel the adventure aspects of Paradise Now along at a brisk clip. For the record, the film finesses the issue of the deaths of innocent civilians in these attacks. The mission is aimed at the Israeli military. The sight of a child causes one of the bombers to abandon a potential target. In the end, it is clear that while soldiers might be the bulk of the victims, there will be plenty of what the U.S. military calls collateral damage.

If Paradise Now has any profundity, it is in delivering the simple reminder that suicide bombers are actual people, making the decision to kill themselves and others for reasons, both political and personal, that make sense to them.

michael.hill@baltsun.com

Paradise Now (Warner Independent) Starring Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman. Directed by Hany Abu-Assad.

Rated PG-13.

Time 90 minutes.

Review B

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