PFS Film Review
Paradise Now


Paradise NowParadise Now, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, is a Palestinian-Dutch film that seeks to acquaint filmviewers with the everyday life at Nablus and the views of certain residents toward Israeli occupation. The facts presented are stark. Many residences have been destroyed, mostly by Israeli firepower but some even by Palestinian protesters, so the town has an unpleasantly dilapidated appearance that is clearly unsettling psychologically; at the end of the film, cinematography of the affluent orderly life in prosperous Tel Aviv provides quite a contrast. There is considerable unemployment due to a lack of capital equipment for factories as well as regulations that exclude many but not all Palestinians from seeking jobs in Israel. Because male residents are largely deprived of lucrative opportunities at breadwinning, they are unable to attract spouses and live dysfunctional lives. Politically, there are no normal political channels to petition for the redress of grievances. Aside from the wholesale grievance about the existence of Israeli's occupation of the West Bank, retail grievances include atrocities and indignities committed by Israeli soldiers to enforce the occupation. A nascent civil society favoring peaceful accommodation is overshadowed by a hierarchy that imposes decisions to commit terrorist acts downward. The principle that activates terrorist acts is revenge, namely, that someone killed by Israelis requires a counterattack by Palestinians. The plot is about two twentysomething Palestinians, Said (played by Kais Nashef) and Khaled (played by Ali Suliman), who are tapped by a schoolteacher, Jamal (played by Amer Hlebel), to set off suicide bombs in retaliation for the recent assassination of a Palestinian leader. Meanwhile, Suha (played by Lubna Azabal), an attractive daughter of the martyred Palestinian leader, is able to travel through Israel freely. After befriending Said, Suha tries to dissuade him from contributing to the endless cycle of violence, and Said in turn tries to stop Khaled from acting alone. The point of the film is to take seriously Khaled's rhetoric, which justifies his desire to achieve immediate paradise by serving as a suicide bomber rather than to continue to live without dignity. In the debate between the two men, Said clearly scores the most points, noting for example that Israel is not only the perpetrator of injustice but also has convinced the world that the acts of Palestinians make Israel a victim. But Said is a recent convert due to his association with Suha, so the match is unequal. Moreover, Said's recent pacifism appears hollow in light of the urgent political imperative to keep the pressure on Israel to stop the occupation. Just how a Palestinian can travel by automobile without detection from Nablus to Tel Aviv while carrying wires and explosives is a peculiarity in the plot that is not explained, but in the final scene Said is on a bus in Tel Aviv, looking depressed, leaving filmviewers to guess what he will do. Although the main characters seem unlikable, hampering the ability of Paradise Now to get its message across, the film presents terrorists as persons acting on the basis of coherent political grievances rather than the stereotypic notion that they are insane and out to destroy civilization. For a film that seeks to explain the etiology of a suicide bomber, Paradise Now adds to a genre that began with the Indian film The Terrorist (2000) and also includes the very recent The War Within (2005). When Paradise Now was originally screened in Israel, many audiences were amazed to see a humanization of Palestinian terrorists. However, when the film won a Golden Globe award in January and an Oscar nomination in February, an Israeli software engineer gathered 31,000 signatures on a petition to demand that the Oscar nomination be withdrawn. Since the Political Film Society was established to recognize those who raise important political issues on the screen, Paradise Now has been nominated for an award as best film exposé of 2005. MH

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