Welcome to Nazareth. A man dressed as Santa Claus is pursued up and down its hills by a swarm of angry children, bleeding profusely from a knife wound. Such is the opening of Elia Suleiman's bitterly dark Divine Intervention, a series of sketches (the director refers to them as "gags" or "burlesques") portraying Israeli-Palestinian tensions. It's worth noting that the director is Palestinian, Nazareth is his hometown, the neighbors are portrayed as morose at best (and teetering on the brink of violence at worst), and the filmmaker portrays his surrogate self within the film, a character named E.S. The E.S. of the film is a poker-faced, silent presence, kept tiny within the wide-angle compositions of Suleiman the director. As Brit pop icon Morrissey might say, "I'm just passing through here / On my way to somewhere civilized / Maybe someday, I'll finally arrive."
The non-narrative storytelling references back to E.S., tending to his ailing father (Nayef Fahoum Daher) and meeting a beautiful Palestinian freedom fighter (Manal Khader) for unspoken hand-holding, seen discreetly on the Jerusalem border under the watchful eye of soldiers. If E.S. is the observer (he's too inactive to truly function as a conscience), he's also maybe the dreamer. His fantasies serve as comical outbursts, seamlessly interwoven into his mundane life. The freedom fighter transforms at one point into a cloaked ninja, beating the hell out of Israeli soldiers to a kitschy pop jingle. One of E.S.'s apricots also functions as a hand grenade, blowing up an enemy tank. A colorful balloon emblazoned with the picture of Yasser Arafat flies over an Israeli checkpoint unhindered. Any dream will do.
Continue reading: Divine Intervention Review