Paradise Now Movie Review
Cast & Crew
Director : Hany Abu-Assad
Producer : Bero Beyer
Screenwriter : Hany Abu-Assad, Bero Beyer,
Starring : Kais Nashif, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal, Amer Hlehel, Hiam Abbass, Ashraf Barhoum,
Said (Kais Nashif) may be strikingly handsome with his scraggly curls and piercing eyes, but consider his dead-eyed gaze for a moment and you realize he's living on a whole different planet. Since his boyhood, Said has both begrudged and sought to distance himself from the legacy of his father, found to be a collaborator with the Israelis and, hence, executed. Said's close friend, Khaled (Ali Suliman), likewise nurses a deep-rooted shame for his father, who he once witnessed capitulating with Israeli soldiers. Said and Khaled have since formed a pact to give their lives together to the Palestinian cause, and go out in a redeeming blaze of glory.
The two are the political and temperamental opposite of Suha (Lubna Azabal) -- the pretty, Western-educated daughter of a "martyred" leader whom Said deeply admires. While she cannot accept the rationale behind her father's death nor the eye-for-an-eye violence that has blinded her homeland, she is strongly attracted to the sullen, charmingly simple Said. Meanwhile, Said's mother (Hiam Abbass), as strong-willed as she is, can only watch as her son drifts closer to the violent fate that she fears awaits him. That fated moment arrives with Jamal (Amer Hlehel), an operative for a terrorist outfit, who informs Said and Khaled that they've been chosen for a suicide-bombing mission set for the following day.
With bombs strapped beneath their dark, dapper suits, Said and Khaled attempt to cross the Israeli border, but gunfire forces them to turn back. On orders of his superiors, Khaled aborts the mission. Said, however, decides to give it another shot. He, thereby, sends the whole organization, paranoid of discovery, into a tailspin. The remainder of Paradise Now is little more than a chase picture as Khaled, accompanied by the bewildered Suha, tries to track down Said, while Said shunts from Tel Aviv and back to the West Bank, rankled by a briefly awakened conscience. Abu-Assad doesn't end his morality tale there, but takes it up one more notch, as Said--intent on exorcising himself of his father's ghost -- attempts the mission one more time as Khaled, desperate to pull his friend back from the brink, tags after him.
Paradise Now, Abu-Assad sets a high bar for himself, trying to tell an emotionally and philosophically complex story with minimalist exposition and style. The pace is steady, matter-of-fact, driving forward just as surely and inexorably as its characters tempt the existential void. Together with cinematographer Antoine Heberlé and editor Sander Vos, Abu-Assad gives us a visually arresting palate of the West Bank, with its sun-baked ruins and streets thrumming with life. The director, however, mistakes monotony for subtlety. Aside from a few scenes of well-timed deadpan humor, his tone and pacing are both so flat that his movie eventually feels listless. And, in its final third, where the script should've upped the emotional ante, it only plods towards an anti-climax, never deepening our understanding of its characters nor, in Said's case, really vitalizing his humanity. Indeed, Beyer and Abu-Assad's characters are never more than labels, standing in for one moral attitude or another towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Failing to humanize its characters beyond that, our engagement with them is proportionately limited.
Like many humanist portraits, Paradise Now is heavily dependent on a filmmaker's knack for plumbing deep into his characters' psyches for inner, more universal conflicts, beneath their political ones. And the job of depicting characters within this culture, in particular, owing to its more reserved mores (compared to Western cultures), demands an artist with the keenest emotional antennae. While Paradise Now is a technically assured treatment of an important story, it never transcends its political posturing and finds the humanity as profoundly as it means to.
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