Grim reality of 48 hours in the West Bank serves as timely call for peace
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Cinematography: Antoine Herberle
Starring: Kais Nshef, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabel, Amer Hlehel
Studio info: Warner Independent Pictures, 90 minutes
It seems unlikely that writer/director Hany Abu-Assad ever anticipated that Paradise Now would be transformed into a reflective period piece during the weeks preceding its release. The film unceremoniously tracks 48 hours in the lives of Said and Khaled, two young Palestinian men living in the West Bank city of Nablus, slouching through tedious day jobs as car mechanics, bickering with their siblings, huffing Hookahs and pouring tea—until they’re divinely selected to carry out a resistance-fueled suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Abu-Assad is careful to humanize Said and Khaled without being overtly sympathetic, and the internal coupling of uncompromising faith and gut-deep indecision make Said and Khaled both intensely relatable and wholly alienating. Ultimately, Paradise Now is more about the hopelessness of foreign occupation (and the tension between celestial certainty and plain-old human fear) than the region’s politics. The film is artfully shot (Said and Khaled’s final meal is framed to mirror DaVinci’s “The Last Supper”; the concluding moments feature a remarkable montage of the player’s faces, staring directly or indirectly at Abu-Assad’s lens, before closing in on Said’s un-telling eyes), and the narrative is just spare enough to obscure most of its characters’ origins, leaving only the facts of the land and the strife of all its inhabitants, regardless of their origins. Israel’s recent decision to evacuate Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank provides remarkable off-screen context, but the grim reality of Paradise Now should remind the world to keep pushing hard for peace.