Review: Paradise Now (2005)

Paradise Now (2005)

Directed by: Hany Abu-Assad | 90 minutes | drama, crime, thriller, war | Actors: Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal, Amer Hlehel, Hiam Abbass, Ashraf Barhom, Mohammad Bustami

24 hours in the mind of a suicide bomber. A subtitle that immediately gives away the political and social charge of ‘Paradise Now’, the Arabic spoken feature film by director Hany Abu-Assad. But also a subtitle that forgets to mention that there is much more to see in the film than just the mindset of a terrorist. ‘Paradise Now’ tells the story of a strong bond between two Palestinian friends Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), who, grappling with their identity, their faith and their moral principles, share the same mission: to kill as many Israelis as possible by blow themselves up.

On the eve of their secret mission, the film mainly follows Said who, as unobtrusively as possible, says goodbye to his family and girlfriend. The choice was made to show in these scenes that in Palestine, despite the ever-present fear of attacks and the state in which many villages and towns find themselves, life can be just as beautiful as anywhere else. Long shots of the two friends relaxed smoking a water pipe and looking out on the destroyed and bombed Nablus on the West Bank, show the will they have to enjoy these moments. In addition, Abu-Assad shows the strong family bond by alternating atmospheric and cheerful meals with deep thoughts about life and death.

The nuances in ‘Paradise Now’ make the story more realistic and exclude a radical position towards a bold theme. For example, Abu-Assad makes the goal understandable and portrays the friends as sympathetic boys, without assigning a positive judgment to the preparation and execution of a suicide attack. The film also has a comic undertone as a form of perspective. Recording a farewell video, for example, has to be redone three times because the camera doesn’t work, and is used to relay final messages to the mother about cheaper water filters. In addition, the toss of a coin determines which of the two boys blows up first, and Said and Khaled’s Last Supper is a nod to Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting.

In the morning Said and Khaled leave for a border post with bombs under their costumes. However, the plan does not go as planned as the two lose track of each other. At that point, doubt sets in, and both Said and Khaled begin to wonder if what they’re doing is right. With their subdued playing, both protagonists show the struggles of their characters very well. The enthusiasm fades when bombs are actually attached to their bodies. The conflict that follows is full of hesitations and strong emotions and is presented in a very nuanced manner by both Nashef and Suliman, which only enhances the drama.

‘Paradise Now’ was shot in the Israeli-encircled Palestinian city of Nablus and in Nazareth. A tough task to be able to screen a film with such a theme in such an area. Nevertheless, Abu-Assad managed to put down a beautiful film with good acting, beautiful camerawork and editing and plenty of room for nuance and wry comedy. Finally a film that contributes to a discussion, that makes the audience think. An open ending is also unavoidable, but it is beautifully designed: a long white shot followed by a silent closing credits. That touches.

Back to the subtitle then. Fortunately there is one more: ‘sometimes the most courageous act is what you don’t do’. Is that the end given away? See for yourself!

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