Dir. Ziad Douieri. Lebanon, France. 2012.

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Based on a novel by Yasmina Khadra, Lebanese director Ziad Douiere's The Attack is about a man without a country. Unlike Philip Nolan in Edward Everett Hale's classic novella who has been exiled from his country forever, however, Dr. Amin Jafaari (Ali Suliman), a respected Israeli Arab doctor, never had a country to begin with. The film, about a man whose life is turned upside down in the course of a single moment, is a gripping suspense thriller, an intimate love story, a poignant personal drama, and a powerful political statement. What it adds up to is superior entertainment. Unfortunately, the film has been banned by the Arab League for the crime of filming in Israel, limiting its potential to reach a bigger audience.

The film opens with Dr. Jafaari delivering his acceptance speech at a prestigious medical conference where he has been honored as the first Arab ever to receive an important medical award. Oddly, his wife Siham (Reymond Amselem) is visiting relatives in Nazareth and is not with him to celebrate the apex of his career. Before going on stage, he receives a call from Siham but tells her that he cannot talk and will call her later. That is the last time that he will ever hear her voice. The next day, while at the hospital, Amin hears a loud explosion and knows from experience that a suicide bombing has taken place and will bring many injured and dying victims to the hospital.

Dr. Jafaari, who has always treated both Arabs and Israelis, works feverishly to save as many lives as possible, even though a Jewish victim refuses to be treated by an Arab and spits in his face. Amin's world of safety and respect is torn apart when he learns that his wife may be the suicide bomber responsible for the death of 17 people including 11 children. Arrested and mercilessly grilled by a relentless Israel Intelligence officer (Uri Gavriel), he is told that the bomber has been positively identified by forensic evidence as his wife but he is in denial. It is only after he receives a letter from Siham in which she tells him not to hate her that he becomes convinced of the impossible.

The letter is mailed from Nablus, a Palestinian city on the West Bank, but Amin withholds the information from his friend Raveed (Dvir Benedek), a high-ranked police officer. Provided sanctuary by Kim Yehuda (Evgenia Dodina), a Russian colleague, Amin is distraught by the realization that his wife of fifteen years had a secret life that she never shared with him. Mirroring Denis Villeneuve's 2010 film Incendies, he travels to Nablus at great personal risk to trace the roots of Siham's involvement, questioning family and friends to find answers. As Amin seeks out those responsible, he is told by his nephew Adel (Karim Saleh) who was deeply involved, "Something snapped in her head," and by Sheik Marwan (Ramzi Makdessi) that he has no business there and to return to Tel Aviv before he brings the Israeli Intelligence down on his people (why Israeli intelligence did not follow him to Nablus is not explained).

An Arab leader in the Christian church tells him, "We're not Islamists and we're not fundamentalists, either. We are only the children of a ravaged, despised people, fighting with whatever means we can to recover our homeland and our dignity," and adds, "I never met your wife," the priest declares, "I wish I had." When Amin learns that Sahim is considered a hero and a martyr with her picture posted all over the city, he begins to feel trapped between his loyalty to the Arab cause and to his Israeli colleagues who opened so many doors for him and his wife. Visiting the rubble of Jenin, a Palestinian refugee camp that was bombed by the Israelis, he starts to sense the anger behind his wife's radicalization.

Doueiri presents a balanced picture of the feelings on both sides, and The Attack is not a propaganda film. Although it is about the seemingly impassable political divide that separates the Israeli and Arab worlds, the film is basically a look at the human cost of the conflict. A sensitive and poetic story of the love between two people shown in flashbacks, the film asks the question - can we ever really know another person, even those we have been intimate with for many years? Can we ever know what goes on in the deepest layer of their being, how they "sense" the world? Can we even know ourselves, who we really are? For Amin, who must put the pieces of his life back together, there are many questions, but few answers, only emotional scars that will last a lifetime.



Howard Schumann

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