You know it isn't your average Middle Eastern film when Santa Claus is stabbed by a gang of teenagers in the first scene. That opening gambit, never explained, sets the tone for Elia Suleiman's deadpan satire of the Israel-Palestine conflict. A Palestinian, Suleiman is plainly trying to make hash out of the Israelis, who generally come across here as mindless thugs. It's an admittedly one-sided view of the situation, but satirists don't have to be fair--they just have to be funny, and Suleiman is.The film kicked up a tiny bit of controversy when it was ruled ineligible for the Academy Award--because Palestine is not recognized by the United Nations. I'm not certain if it would have made a difference in any event; Academy voters likely would not have warmed to Suleiman's episodic, absurdist style. DIVINE INTERVENTION is essentially a series of vignettes of Palestinian life, with many scenes recurring throughout the film in minor variations: an old man waves at his neighbors as he drives down the street, cursing them under his breath all the way; another man waits for a bus--which never comes; a pair of elderly men sit on a rooftop, motionless; a beautiful, modelesque woman casually wanders through an Israeli checkpoint, which collapses behind her.
The humor derives largely from Suleiman's deliberately static direction: the camera generally just sits there, recording all the absurdity--and casual cruelty--of life in Palestine. Characters wander in and out of the frame with no corresponding movement from the camera. His method depends on quiet observation; he makes his points almost indifferently. Occasionally, he lets his anger slip: a lengthy fantasy sequence in which a female Palestinian ninja kills five Israeli soldiers scores some easy chuckles, but it clashes with the measured tone of the film as a whole.
As with most episodically structured films, DIVINE INTERVENTION is somewhat monotonous; its strength lies with its comic verve, and when that lapses here and there, the movie becomes momentarily tedious--there's no plot to speak of to back it up. But it does leave you with more than a few memorably daffy moments. And it's the sort of humor that, barring a few heavy-handed scenes, transcends politics.Suleiman's comic vision plays like a cross between Bunuel's random lunacy and Beckett's calculated sterility, and the combination works often enough to make the trip worthwhile.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.