Filming in Nablus, one of the most violent areas of the West Bank, director Hany Abu-Assad and his crew went through hell to bring Paradise Now to the screen. The film’s location manager was kidnapped by Palestinian fighters who thought Abu-Assad’s script sided against suicide bombers and the fight against Israel. But Paradise Now refuses to take political sides and chooses the more profound, and truly dangerous, route: it sides with humanity.
Said and Khaled (played exceptionally by Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman) are two young auto mechanics until called upon to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Just before the complicated operation gets under way Said begins having misgivings, perhaps from talking politics with love interest and peace-oriented Suha, a European educated daughter of one of the resistance’s legends. Then the entire plan goes awry, leaving Said wandering around, a human bomb dangerous to both the Israelis and Palestinians.
At moments it hamfistedly demonstrates the competing arguments for and against suicide bombing, but the film is better at presenting why such arguments exist at all. Said and Khaled’s rage at Israeli oppression is reinforced by documentary-quality details of poverty and religious zeal; Abu-Assad later provides brutal contrast with shots of Tel Aviv’s capitalist excess. And as boldly choreographed tracking shots constantly intensify the drama, devastating elements of absurdity — like a camera malfunction during the taping of a bomber’s last words — move the action toward the universal. Ideologues will take exception. In giving voice to Palestinians’ humiliation and helplessness while refusing any moral justification for suicide bombing, Paradise Now employs cinematic art to transcend extremist simplifications and explore a tragic ethical grey zone.
Opens October 28