The film discussed in the next two posts is from the Middle East. With the assistance of global cinema a we descendent of immigrants living in the US, such as myself, can acquire compassion for a flat-broke Palestinian youth living under occupation in the Holy Land. The film may be a commentary on the downstream consequences of genocide. It is also a buddy flick. The action might be described as the confrontation of a terrorist by a feminist or, the makings of a great love story gone to waste.
In contacting compassion for its desperate anti-hero, I do not condone what he ends up doing. The splash of compassion this movie solicits is not about giving a free pass to a jackass. It is merely a baby step toward understanding how a young man turns into one in the first place. None of what I say about him is intended to excuse what he does, but after hearing him make his case, no wonder its a death wish.
In the opening scene of Hany Abu-Hassad’s “Paradise Now” (2005), Suha, an alert, young Palestinian woman pauses in a crossroad and stares at a boarder checkpoint. She’s stradeling a modern day war zone. On this side of the fence it’s a seaside metropolitan city, the other has been reduced to a massive, concrete, tossed salad, from being relentlessly pounded on by a first rate war machine.
Smartly attired Suha strides up to a heavily defended tunnel. This border crossing turns out rather revealing. A guard standing back a couple yards raises his rifle and hooks his finger to the trigger. She’s crossing back to Palestine, mind you, not trying to get out. Yet, before being readmitted she must hand over her bag and passport to a soldier outfitted for combat.
The soldier’s hungry gaze never lets up, except when pawing through the clothes in her bag. He checks her visa and discreetly plays a little game with her upturned palm, slapping her passport down a touch later than anticipated, disrupting the rhythm of their routine.
He thinks she’s hot. She’s chill; her gaze becomes impregnable. Ironic, is it not? How erotic interest temporarily overwhelms his prejudice. Can such notions of unreconcilable divisions make any sense at all if overlooked conveniently for the sake of sex?
Once she has cleared the fence, the day to day reality in which Suha is pressed to seek refuge could not be better described than Armageddon. That presumes you know the old stories. That crossroads and tunnel echo each other, drawing attention to symbolic potential. Couldn’t it ironically represent the birth canal of the laboring woman in the last book of the bible, at the mouth of which the dragon hovers ready to devour?
Suha is just passing through that day, a sample citizen, one of millions that clings to their ancestral home, despite an utter absence of calm. No matter what the spiritually minded young man in this story does from here on, regardless of the viewpoint we lean toward, or which consequence of his actions holds most significance to us, this film is about a young woman alive today in the Holy Land preaching non-violence in an ultra-violent place.
After Suha’s border crossing, the emphasis of the action on screen shifts to her friend Said. But the story always belongs to Suha and by extension, the story always remains ours. What happens to us? How does leaving a mess for the rest of us accomplish anything but more disgrace?
Suha is not the protagonist. Said, her love interest, is. So why are we introduced to her in such a loaded setting, in the opening sequence of a story if it were meant to be about him? Could be a statement about the impotence of the terrorist. If martyrs are moths, we follow this one to learn what consumes this one in flames and the other one, not. Yet the moral of the story doesn’t seem to be about some prized outcome gained at ultimate cost. But much more about who gets left behind and what gets lost.
The unravelling of Said’s life begins like this. He and his best friend hit a social and economic cul-de-sac. Getting sacked at a junkyard Palestine. It doesn’t get much lower than that. Still, in a different story all together it could have signaled a major turn around for Said when Suha comes to to fetch her car. Said applies sweet talk, suggesting she drive off in an Alfa Romeo instead. Suha extracts the essence of romance from Said and rejects all the rest.“Actually, I don’t care about cars, but the name sounds nice. Alfa Romeo.” Note the anti-materialist stance.
The scene ends with a subtle foreboding of what’s to come. “Will I see you again?” she asks? He answers, “En Shallah,” on account of his pending suicide, although she doesn’t know about it yet. “If God wills” is the translation; the significance behind those words, she can not help but underestimate, at this point. That will soon change. Her father was a martyr. Once she suspects Said’s intent, she’ll argue against it.
“There are other ways to resist than by sacrificing one’s life,” she insists. He claims to be already dead, thanks to his father, who was executed as a collaborationist.
Anyway, Suha’s and Said’s romance becomes stranded, before it can go anyplace, when Said’s religious advisor appoints him to blow himself up in enemy’s face. That story is all too familiar. It has become a regular occurrence in the news these days. I must shy away from descriptions like tragic romance or hero’s journey to explain acts of religiously sanctioned hate.
Multiple viewings of this film are warranted. From our comparatively privileged perspective, the precariousness of these peoples’ predicament is perplexing to say the least. Yet, given the human face this movie paints, it is hard to call those folk “enemy,” except for the kooks of course.
Kooks are the enemies of peace. Other than that, pretty much everywhere I search, it’s what folks want. Avert your eyes from the young lads being groomed to be terrorists, in this flick, and look between the lines. Witness ordinary poor and middle class folks going about their business under severe stress.
In “Paradise Now,” racism wreaks havoc in all directions. Everyone’s a victim. Hand me down prejudices threaten to perpetually poison that part of the world and there is more than enough blame to go around. What perverse indulgence prevents us from cultivating common ground?