Paradise Now (2005)

(Premiere Date: February 14, 2005 [Berlin International Film Festival - Germany])
(US Premiere Date: October 5, 2005 [New York Film Festival])
(US Release Date: October 28, 2005)

Everything looks different from another angle...

J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

Different movie, same name:
The person who first told me about Paradise Now indicated that it deserved to be nominated for the best foreign language picture at the 2005 Academy Awards, but probably couldn't be. Why? This is a Palestinian film and Palestine doesn't currently exist as a country. It made it, though, and has been so nominated.

And, yes, it does deserve the nomination. It's a powerful and sharp film, which tells a very difficult story (one that everyone has an opinion on) from the view point that most of us do not, and will not ever see... that of the inside. You see, Paradise Now is a movie about two young Palestinian men who are recruited to carry out concurrent suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, Israel. As shocking as the notion of such a film being celebrated truly is, Paradise Now

is not a pro-terrorism movie, and is not any sort of film that pork-breath Bin Laden would applaud. Just as Boyz N The Hood did for inner-city gang violence years ago, Paradise Now lays bare the tale of the suicide bomber in Palestine, shows it to you, and leaves you to your own mind. No defense or excuse is offered for the act of suicide bombing, however, the reasoning (if not the "reason") behind the decision to or not to carry such a shocking act to fruition is explored in great detail here.

At the very least we on the outside can understand the frustration that men and women like these must feel, even while we vehemently condemn the action itself. The best part about Paradise Now is that it does show a balanced mind-set to this issue, showing the strife and discomfort of the West Bank, but never denying that terrorism is a horrible, horrible thing. If not clear from the acting and script itself, the very dialogue of the voices of reason here spell it out in no uncertain terms. Finally, Paradise Now displays that for all the dreams of heroism and martyrdom those acting out these attacks might have, Suicide Bombing is NOT a courageous act. To live in discomfort, squalor and fear, or be given the choice to end life, believe FULLY that you're going to heaven, and be honored by God and the Angels (not to mention those promised virgins), and to take with you a few of your closest enemies... well that's not much of a choice is it? It's actually cowardly to go through with it. The real bravery is remaining alive and making a change that way.

Said and Khaled are the average young men you might meet anywhere in the world. However, we meet them in a West Bank mechanic's shop. They have hopes, dreams and plans, just like any of us. Said (Kais Nashef) even has a potential new love interest in the form of Suha (Lubna Azabal), a mechanic's dream come true because she's beautiful and has a crappy car. Khaled (Ali Suliman) is sure of himself and proud, willing to stand up to any injustice from any source. They are idealistic and headstrong, just like most young men.

However, they also see themselves under the thumb of Israel. So, when their friend Jamal (Amer Hlehel ) informs them that they've been selected to carry out a "Martyrdom Mission", they immediately stop being "us" and become terrorists in our eyes. Take note, this is not a commentary on the ways that the Israelis and Palestinians got started down this path. This is not an expose on the political struggle, or the talks between Sharon, Arafat, Carter, Clinton, Bush, Hamas, the PLO or any of them. These are young men who were born as the water was already boiling and brought up to know the absolutes of their surroundings, or at least to believe that their surroundings are indeed absolute. Because of this, they don't even question this order. It is as if a Doctor has told them they are to die. It is accepted and they begin to prepare.

From this point onward we see Said and Khaled putting their affairs in order, spending time with family and preparing to be strapped into a harness filled with plastic explosives. Faced with this and the difficult prospects of saying goodbye, it's striking how fast the unquestionable gets a few questions thrown at it. Over the next twenty four hours, pensive introspection, frightened fleeing and doubt define the boys as they run to their mission and back away from it as well. All the while the reasonable and much more logical and sane voice of Suha is there to tell them that this is not the way to make change, but the way to force more action upon them.

Director Hany Abu-Assad (who wrote this film with Bero Beyer and Pierre Hodgson) does a fantastic job of bringing the performances out of Nashef and Suliman, while keeping the various puzzle pieces in juggling movement. His guidance brings them through just being kids to being militant "freedom fighters" to being philosophical runaways to shakily decisive movers all within a very short time. The acting and the directing are fantastic. Special mention here has to be proffered to Lubna Azabal, who owns every scene she is in. Abu-Assad is especially brilliant in his showcasing of the concept that while everyone on every side probably has a really good point, the violence (from every side) isn't doing anything but birthing more violence. In light of that, when push comes to shove, and one finds oneself pushed and shoved, the easiest thing to do is just to give up... the hardest is to question things and take action... alive.

If there is a singular message here, it's most certainly nonviolent, and most likely it's a call for Peace. However, the message is delivered in a way that never sugar coats either side, nor does it deify those who carry out either side's acts of violence. In this respect, this would make a perfect companion piece to Spielberg's Munich! See them back to back if at all possible, but don't expect to come out of these with anything definitive. You may find yourself more conflicted than ever, because you'll understand a lot more things a lot better than you did before. Four Stars out of Five for Paradise Now. In the play 1776, wise words are spoken by Senator Hopkins of Rhode Island as he hollers: "Well, in all my years I ain't never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn't be talked about. Hell yeah! I'm for debating anything!" The mind might never change, but it takes a brave person to be willing to gather the facts, re-analyze the positions and discuss an issue before closing the old brain-door. To all of those who say "there's no excuse for violence", guess what? You're right. See you in the next reel!

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Paradise Now (2005) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III who is solely responsible for the content of this site and for the fact that he knows the answers, but has all the questions wrong!
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