Paradise Now

Reviewed By brianorndorf
Posted 10/28/05 14:59:22

"A very bold and challenging film"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Making a film that basically sympathizes with two suicide bombers seems a ludicrous endeavor, yet “Paradise Now” stays calm and collected as it details this brew of insanity and devotion. Patiently directed, but still allowing for moments of horror and introspection, “Now” might appear to be an inflammatory call to arms, but instead it’s a fascinating journey into a frustrated mind.

Barely scraping by as Palestinian mechanics, Khaled (Ali Suliman) and Said (Kais Nashef) have become complacent with their poverty and the perceived political agenda against them. When offered a chance to immortalize themselves in a suicide bomb attack on Tel Aviv, the two friends ultimately agree, and are sent through the rituals to prepare for the event. After a botched first attempt reveals Kahled's reluctance to complete his assignment, Said goes on the run, searching through his feelings of rage and frustration as he decides whether or not to detonate his explosives.

There's a stillness to "Paradise Now" that adds to the terror of the plot; it's not exactly rationality, but the calm that permeates the film plays a dynamic role in ratcheting up the tension and desperation. "Paradise" is a hot potato of a production, asking audiences to spend time considering the intricate mind of a suicide bomber, and director Hany Abu-Assad doesn't make any apologies as he captures this journey into desperation and destruction.

Told from the Palestinian viewpoint, "Paradise Now" is actually a very simple film about a complicated subject. Instead of establishing an overview of global situations, Abu-Assad instead creates intimacy with the characters, cautiously detailing the immense poverty and despair the main characters live with. The set-up is necessary, since palpable frustration is the only way this film is going to work. By the time the story drifts over to the task of sending Said and Khaled to their fate, Abu-Assad has established rationale for their actions, which makes the horror of watching two men who've made peace with their upcoming deaths and the deaths of many more (murder to some, justice to them), much more effective.

But, are they truly willing to die? While both men are studied in their concentration as they prepare for the event (the ceremonial cleaning, the problematic recording of the farewell messages, the tense drive to the location), Khaled begins to show fear and regret over his radical decision, leading him to reconsider his options, while, after a small disruption, Said continues on his path to his revenge. Due to the intense, seamless lead performances and Abu-Assad's dedication to humanizing these men, "Paradise" heads down very unexpected roads, mostly free of political posturing and happy endings. Only in the final moments does Abu-Assad resort to speeches, both to spell out Said's disillusionment, and to give voice to others on the insanity of the whole mission. Already sparse in traditional filmmaking accouterments, the thick laying of rationales in the finale disrupts the eerie menace the film was slowly percolating.

"Paradise" isn't an easy film to absorb, and will outright offend many (the broad contrast between Said's homeland and his sun-drenched, bikini-infested target in Tel Aviv comes to mind).

However, to provide even a sliver of comprehension to this most impenetrable act of both sacrifice and lunacy is a daring, and "Paradise Now" does a masterful job getting in right under the skin.

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