REVIEW: DVD Release: Paradise Now

Film: Paradise Now
Release date: 14th August 2006
Certificate: 15
Running time: 91 mins
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Starring: Kais Nashef, Lubna Azabel, Amer Hiehel, Ali Suliman, Hiam Abbass
Genre: Crime/Drama
Studio: Warner
Format: DVD
Country: Occupied Palestinian Territory/France/Germany/Netherlands/Israel

The terrorist. The enemy of the western world. The bogeyman for the modern era. There are numerous interpretations of this enigmatic character in cinema, but few have taken Paradise Now’s controversial stance. With the 2005 Oscar nominated film, we encounter this dangerous other from his point of view.

Hany Abu-Assad’s film chronicles the few days that lead the two characters of Said (Kais Nashif) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) as they suddenly become encircled in the world of the suicide bomber, and the procedures they are forced to go through as they are groomed for destruction.

The two protagonists are presented as everyday men from the beginning of the film. They work together at a garage, both bored with their current existence and its lack of excitement. When they are called upon for the duty of the suicide bomber they go along with it, almost as if it is simply something for them to do. It is an act that gives their life some sort of meaning, a final goal to work towards, which is something they ultimately lacked before…

Palestine, the home city of the two men, is depicted as a land of emptiness, a place where nothing happens and landscapes of destruction stretch out into the distance. It paints the idea that it is this country that has warped them into these murderous men; they simply have no other alternative. It isn’t until the female character of Suha (Lubna Azabal) becomes incorporated into the narrative that the realisation of their act comes into fruition and doubts begin to surface in their minds. She becomes the voice of reason fighting through in a maelstrom of violence and destruction, and it brings about the inner turmoil within the men that carries the film.

Abu-Assad’s film is one of contrasts. We have the contrasts of location with Nablus and Nazareth, the difference in ideologies of Said and Suha, and the contrast between the men’s family life and the world of the terrorist ringleaders. It is this switching between alternating beliefs and imagery that manages to humanize the world Paradise Now creates. Nothing is black-and-white, every decision and conversation leads to yet another question - in short, no easy conclusion is ever reached. Herein lies the believable realism that manages to add further fear to the situation; they are real men wrapped up in such an awful situation.

Said and Khaled are characters an audience can initially identify with until their real identities are revealed. Unlike many films that depict the terrorist, they are humanized through their interactions with their families, and the romantic exchanges between Khaled and Suha lead to a guilty longing in the viewer that these men, these monsters of the 21st century, will live through this dilemma. It is a different approach to the usual stance given on the character of the terrorist. Here we see men manipulated into a role they are uncertain of. The usual religious trope is dodged at every corner by Assad, with the discussion of religion rarely appearing and the image of a Mosque never cropping up. Instead, we find manipulative ringleaders coaxing two men into a role that they can never truly comprehend the reason for fulfilling.

Abu-Assad never offers us an easy answer. We are left pondering long after the conclusion what the true motivation behind such heinous acts can be. It is made harder through the director’s deep and intricate character development leading us to the question; do we sympathise with these men or condone them? Due to this, Paradise Now evolves into an exploration of the human condition and how a person reacts to decisions of this magnitude in such an unfamiliar culture and country.

Paradise Now is a film that stands tall amongst its clouds of controversy, evolving into a fascinating yet harrowing exploration of the human condition and how a person reacts to decisions of this magnitude in such an unfamiliar culture and country. JCH

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