Divine Intervention Movie Review

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.

Those dreams are given brutal counterpoint by scenes of the Nazareth community, not following any particular character but drifting through the city like a labyrinth. In an early scene, E.S.'s father drives through town cursing out his neighbors ("Fuck your mother's sister!"). The homeowners toss bags of garbage into neighbors' yards, a Jew and Palestinian stare each other down at the head of a traffic jam, and streetwalkers wait pointlessly for buses that never arrive. All of this is handled in the deadpan style Western audiences might expect of Jim Jarmusch. Flat, carefully composed shots linger on for minutes on end, as the actors move through the frame like ants. Those with a penchant for Hal Hartley's slapstick choreography might get a kick out of Suleiman's staging, which gets off to a violent start with poor, brutalized Santa. While Suleiman's unwillingness to cut has a hypnotic power, it occasionally seems lethargic long after he's made his point. Brevity isn't part of the make-up of Divine Intervention, and the patient viewer will have to take the purposefully lugubrious (non-fantasy) scene pacing in stride.

If there isn't much of a plot, there's something in Suleiman's order that feels right. E.S. is seen in the film arranging scenes for a screenplay he'd like to write, all yellow Post-Its on a wall. It's a useful way of viewing Divine Intervention as well -- sketches that compliment one another and build from that violent opening to queasy tension, with fleeting glimpses of hope and lots of angry laughter along the way. Suleiman is critical of Nazareth, a ghetto where moral values have eroded to the point of near non-existence. Laughing at the callousness and cruelty of man, of one neighbor's inhumanity to the other, Suleiman uses his comedy as a way of digging under the skin. The film's subtitle is, after all, A Chronicle of Love and Pain.

Aka Yadon ilaheyya.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer :

Comments

Divine Intervention Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2001

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