Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman, and Lubna Azabal star in a film written by Hany Abu-Assad, Bero Beyer, and Pierre Hodgson, and directed by Abu-Assad.
With violence in the Middle East escalating at an exponential rate, making a film about Palestinian suicide bombers is a bold move. Both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict opposed Paradise Now, and for good reason: In the film, neither side looks particularly good, or emerges morally victorious. The movie is much more true to the issues, and therefore much better than that.
The film stars Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman as Said and Khaled — respectively — a pair of Palestinian friends chosen for a suicide bomb mission. We follow the duo for the two days leading up to their mission: budding romances, philosophical debates, the final nights spent with their families, and the filming of their farewell videos. The acting is stellar, the story is engaging, the characters are sympathetic, and the plot has plenty of suspenseful — though not overplayed — twists and turns. But as a film about what’s happening in Israel right now, the movie comes up short.
One of the few films appearing on the big screen in the U.S. that’s even set in the West Bank (a zone occupied by Israel but hotly contested by many Palestinians, who consider it theirs) much less depicting the conflicts there, Paradise Now had a unique opportunity to explain why people are willing to become suicide bombers. Abu-Assad could have shown how poor the conditions in the West Bank really are. He could have elaborated on the importance of religion in the day-to-day life of regular Palestinians, and therefore the powerful appeal of eternal salvation that martyrdom promises. And with his intimate look at Said and Khaled’s lives, and the mundane details of signing on for a suicide mission, the film seemed perfectly poised to do just that.
Instead, the intimacy serves only to remind the viewer that suicide bombers are just real people, frustrated by their circumstances (also a powerful revelation). It doesn’t help us understand how real people come to do such horrific and terrifying things.
Still, it’s certainly a movie worth seeing. Were it part of a long line of films depicting this conflict, Paradise Now would be absolutely satisfying in and of itself. And actually, if we’re lucky, that’s what it’ll end up to be. ■