A humanistic portrait of Palestinian suicide bombers, Paradise Now (in Arabic with English subtitles) has psychological insight into what puzzles and infuriates so many, not just in the Middle East.
It may perplex some how such a film got made on location in Nablus and Nazareth over 40 days as this docudrama was shot on regular 35 mm film rather than digital video.
Hany Abu-Assad is the co-writer and director of a pictures that centers on Said (Kais Nashef) who resides in the "militant" West Bank area. Abu-Assad works persuasively off of the political hot-bed back drop of the longtime Israeli occupation there. Said's torment can be a microcosm of a nation.
The story sees twenty-somethings Said and pal Khaled (Ali Suliman) smoking a hookah pipe and laboring as auto mechanics. But, Said will be chosen to carry out a calculated plot that involves a cell phone and explosives. The script by Abu-Assad and producer Bero Beyer incisively accounts for the events leading to soldiers riding on a bus in Tel Aviv.
The film's title refers to where the bombers are headed after their transforming ritual from the "living dead." The physical preparations have the men bathe, shave, and don dark suits without any mention to family or friends. Complicating things for Said is his romantic urges for the worldly Suha, a lucent Lubna Azabal. Suha is a Palestinian activist whose father is celebrated as a martyr, but justifies the cause through life.
This graceful lucubration is told with clarity as Nashef shows much actorly presence for a neophyte. The attention to detail comes from the delicacy and execution in all phases of a production that is affected by an undercurrent of melancholy.
Paradise Now is unsympathetic and deeply personal without inviting much suspense as Said and Khaled become separated during the process. Abu-Assad's fair-minded approach goes a long way as a paternal conflict is revelatory. And, when such monstrous desperation comes to fruition, final messaging with a camcorder and an AK-47 can have humorous results. Here is an unexciting, yet stylishly crafted cinematic diary that gets to the heart of a dire situation.