Paradise Now

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 June, 2006, 12:00am

Starring: Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal

Director: Hany Abu-Assad

Category: IIA (Arabic)

Two moments stand out in Paradise Now, Hany Abu-Assad's film about what a pair of would-be suicide bombers go through in the run-up to their mission.

First, we see Khaled (Ali Suliman) recording his final statement. Just when he starts hitting his stride with his vociferous speech, his handlers wave at him to stop: they've been so intent on eating that they've forgotten to switch on the camera.

Later, Khaled's friend and would-be fellow bomber Said (Kais Nashef) is in a shop stocked with shelves of video statements from those who went before him. His initial shock about how cheap the tapes are - each costs 15 shekels ($25.80) - spirals into disbelief when the deadpan shopkeeper tells him he can rent them for one-fifth the price.

By injecting the pair's travails with such trivial if not comical moments, Abu-Assad punctures the mythological aura of suicide bombers. Far from being a single-minded homage, Paradise Now offers uncertainty and even scepticism about the efficacy of these acts.

Perhaps in response to previous hackneyed stereotypes of vengeful terrorists (mostly from outside the Middle East), Abu-Assad presents a pair of slackers: garage mechanics who smoke hookahs and talk about Alfa Romeos rather than learn the Koran at the local madrassa.

Abu-Assad has just moved to Los Angeles after living in Holland for 20 years. Perhaps this distance allows him to examine the intifada in other than black-and-white terms. Paradise Now certainly provides a new perspective. The pair's military handlers are depicted as demagogic - inept at best and cynical at worst - and the voice against violence comes from Suha (Lubna Azabal), the daughter of a so-called martyr who has just returned to Palestine after years in Europe.

Paradise Now won several awards when it made its debut at the Berlin Film Festival last year, and also drew criticism from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The former said the film gives a stylised view of suicide bombers; the latter cried foul about the portrayal of bumbling militants and trivialising the jihad (holy war).

Although Paradise Now steers clear of political commitment, it certainly provides another viewpoint - one that puts the anxiety of the individual rather than regional geopolitics at its centre.

Paradise Now opens today