Directed by Hany Abu-Hassad. 2005.

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According to a recent BBC documentary, more than 900 suicide bombers around the world have killed about 9000 people since 1981, with the numbers drastically increasing in recent years. As peace talks stall in the Middle East, both sides remain entrenched in the righteousness of their cause and the violence continues. Paradise Now, a film by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Hassad, does not offer a solution or even a strong point of view but simply tells the fictional story of two young auto mechanics from the Samarian town of Nablus sent to carry out a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. The film won a Golden Globe award in January and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Families of Israelis killed in Palestinian suicide bombings, however, claiming that the film glorifies terrorism, collected 32,000 signatures on a petition to remove it from the competition, but were unsuccessful (although the film did not receive the Oscar). 

The two recruits Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), have been friends since childhood and have never known a time of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. They believe that God wants them to strap bombs to bodies, travel to Tel Aviv, and then detonate these bombs separately in crowded areas. While these recruits are not religiously motivated, both feel the pent-up frustrations of a lifetime of oppression by the Israeli occupation. An organizer named Jamal (Amer Hlehel) tells them that the first bombing will kill a small number of soldiers and civilians but when more soldiers arrive, the second man will blow himself up together with the crowd that has gathered. Both Said and Khaled are outwardly committed and say that they have been chosen by God to become martyrs for the Palestinian cause. 

It is only when Suha (Lubna Azabal), the daughter of a revolutionary hero, develops a friendship with Said that he begins to question his mission. Though Suha's father was a martyr, she is the film's strongest voice for peace and states openly that she would prefer that her father was still alive. Said's father, on the other hand, was accused of being a collaborator with Israel and was executed when Said was ten years old, instilling in him a burning desire for retribution. When Suha asks Said to talk about his commitment to violence, He remarks, “Why talk? To get your pity, or to entertain people whose life is a little better?” At one point Khaled says, “As long as there is injustice there must be sacrifice. I would rather have paradise in my heart than live in this hell.” 

As the tension escalates, Abu-Hassad interjects a moment of humor. As Khaled is being filmed making his last statement with an automatic rifle in his hand, the camera malfunctions and he has to repeat his statement but only can manage to give a shopping tip to his mother about where to buy the best water filter. When the time grows closer to the event, the tension begins to escalate. Though their mission has been carefully planned, something goes wrong at the Israeli border and the outcome remains in doubt until the film's final unnerving moment. 

Unlike the remarkable 2001 documentary Promises, Paradise Now does not present a balance of political viewpoints, nor does it show the suffering experienced by the bombers' victims or their families. It simply shows two individuals cultivated to become martyrs as part of a tactic used for political advantage in a  radicalized society. Said and Khaled are ordinary men and, like millions of others around the globe, are condemned to a life with no clearly discernible future. They are not depicted as monolithic wrongdoers but as human beings torn between ends and means, caught in a trap in which they see no way out. That is the sadness of the film and also its power. 


Howard Schumann
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