Movie Review: Paradise Now

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
The release of "Paradise Now," the realistic thriller about the anatomy of a suicide bombing - marks an historical event: itís the first film by a Palestinian director to be distributed in the United States. The director, Hany Abu-Assad was born and raised in the West Bank and then emigrated to the Netherlands for college in the early 1980ís where he has lived ever since.

The screenplay is co-written by Abu-Assad and the filmís Dutch producer, Bero Beyer. It focuses on life-long best friends, Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman). In one of the early scenes we see Said and Khaled sitting on a hill together, overlooking the squalid city, but seeming like they are rich for the friendship they share. Leaders from an unnamed Palestinian organization choose Said and Khaled to conduct a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

Director, Abu-Assad decided to film in Nablus to try to capture some of the realistic drama of suicide bombing. As a result, he faced unbearable challenges. One of his key crewmembers was kidnapped and he had to call on Yassar Arafat to help. Suicide speech scenes were filmed in the actual room where this takes place. Abu-Assad said that the feeling of being in that space was indeed powerful.

During Khaledís suicide speech scene one of the leaders of the Palestinian organization grabs a sandwich and starts eating as he watches Khaled nervously performing his last heart-wrenching speech. Said looks at him incredulously. The scene is meant to be humorous, but it also indicates how the leader is not nervous and seems to view Said and Khaled as pawns that help to fulfill his agenda, when they are giving their lives.

"Paradise Now" is the cinematic equivalent of a juicy novel with many plot
twists and turns. Said and Khaled are well-developed characters filled with
doubts and questions. Suha (Lubna Azaba), Saidís budding love interest who spent a lot of time in Europe and Morocco is the articulate voice of moderation who plants seeds of logic in Said and Khaledís minds. Suha talks about the futility of violence, an idea which Said and Khaled debate through the 48 hours between when they are chosen and when they are supposed to carry out the suicide bombings. The outcome of the debate is determined only seconds before the film ends.

I liked this film, but I was hoping for a more detailed psychological profile of the main characters to help us understand how a person can decide to do something so extreme. We know that Said was raised in a refugee camp and his father was killed because he cooperated with the Israelis, but we donít get into the main charactersí minds with much depth. I wanted to know from Abu-Assadís research, more about how the characters got to that utterly desperate state that led them to consider something so heinous as a suicide bombing. This was missing in "Paradise Now," but it still holds up as an engaging thriller, and takes us to a world most of us canít imagine.

For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield.
More Information:
Paradise Now
Co-written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad. The first film by a Palestinian director to be distributed in the United States.