Ziad Doueiri’s third feature film is a profoundly beautiful adaptation of Yasmina Khadra’s best-selling novel, The Attack. A stark portrait of love, politics, and betrayal, The Attack is set in Tel Aviv, Israel and tells the story of an Arab husband who must face the truth about himself and his own class-related cultural blindness when a community tragedy hits and haunts especially close to home.
Ali Suliman plays Amin Jaafari, a successful Arab surgeon living comfortably with his wife, Siham (Reymond Amsalem), among Jewish friends and colleagues, and often working under the assumption that this particular society excludes him from any racial or cultural conflict. Early in the film, he receives a prestigious award for his achievements, but everything shifts when a terrorist attack occurs in the neighboring town. Suliman adeptly transitions from the man who seemingly has it all to a widower, and a suspect at the center of a widely publicized investigation. The tension of the film builds rapidly as viewers watch the handsome, confident surgeon weaken and wane under the scrutiny of the detective (played by a powerfully frightening Uri Gavriel) investigating his wife’s possible role in the attack.
Reminiscent at times of Ralph Fienne’s character in the 2005 film The Constant Gardner, Amin risks his own life and—perhaps just as importantly in a film concerned with the role of class—his status to discover the truth about his wife of fifteen years. Their relationship is expressed in a series of beautifully shot flashbacks, where the two are shown falling in love, even as the audience senses the presence of the uncanny—that which is both familiar and simultaneously foreign—in Siham. Amin’s journey is so compelling to watch, as he must straddle two worlds, one linking him and his wife to an act of terrorism, and another linking them to an act of heroism. As Amin struggles to understand an aspect of Arab culture from which he was once so far removed, he discovers answers about his wife—and about himself—that will likely never cease to haunt him.
With this work, Doueiri returns to themes explored in his critically acclaimed debut film, West Beirut, once again using a character-based storyline to explore and expose the cultural, political and racial complications in the Middle East. The Attack is as much about the emotional distance between a husband and wife as it is about cultural distance and difference, even (or especially) as it exists among members of the same culture. A beautiful film both in terms of cinematography and score, The Attack only falls a bit flat in its conclusion. By the end of our hero’s journey, many answers are practically handed over to Amin. Even though his struggle to discover and accept the truth makes up most of the film, some questions seem too easily resolved in the end.
Nonetheless, the moral dilemmas posed by The Attack inspire much greater conflict and tension within both the film and the viewer. For those who assume that the question of terrorism (and other acts of aggression) is merely a question of right versus wrong, Doueiri’s work brilliantly depicts it as a question of family, a question of duty, and perhaps most importantly—an unknowable, unpredictable energy of sorts that no article, book or film could appropriately capture. In acknowledging this complexity, The Attack stands apart from other films set in a violent, divided Middle East as a story firmly dedicated to questions of the individual, character and the human psyche—a frontier more compelling and sometimes more frightening than any single act of terror.
Director: Ziad Doueiri
Writers: Ziad Doueiri, Yasmina Khadra
Starring: Ali Suliman, Evgenia Dodena, Reymond Amsalem
Release Date: June 21, 2013