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Paradise Now (2005)

Verdict: Definitely recommended, if you can handle complicated situations and moral ambiguity.  

It’s kind of amazing what “Paradise Now” manages to do in its first twenty minutes.  It opens with a comedic scene, followed by a few scenes that give us two characters that we like, relate to and want to root for.   (Really, that first scene at the garage would fit perfectly in an Adam Sandler film.)  And then it gives them a quest we absolutely don’t want to see them carry out.   Once that’s accomplished, the rest of the film basically makes itself – it just plays out that conflict,  not only in them, but in us, the audience, as well.  This is a remarkably well-made film.

Ali Suliman and Kais Nashif play a pair of Palestinian twenty-somethings who work at a garage together, until one of them gets fired.  Clearly this is nothing new; both seem suited to drifting from one job to the next, waiting for something better comes along.  They are such humorous, relaxed, and affable guys that it’s completely surprising when they suddenly agree to become suicide bombers and take out a coffee shop in Tel Aviv.  But that’s the point, I think: director Hanu Abu-Assad wants to show us that suicide bombers aren’t religious fanatics, just normal guys who are just fed up with the Israeli occupation and their inability to do anything about it.

But that doesn’t mean this is an apologetic for suicide bombers; just before (and after) he gets his marching orders, Nashif is cautiously courting/flirting with the beautiful Lubna Azabal, whose father was a revered leader of the resistance, now dead.  She is a passionate voice for peace and nonviolence, and the arguments between the two of them — while he is wearing a bomb strapped to his chest — spark and crackle.

I come away from “Paradise Now” thinking not so much about the Israeli/Palestine conflict, but about the relationship between desperation and violence — how a sense of helplessness and despair can drive good men to do terrible things, ignore the voice of reason and compassion, and listen to terrible people.  I think this is the case in many conflicts and situations around the world and throughout history.  And that’s what makes this a pretty great film – instead of taking a side in one of the most heated conflicts of our time, it connects that conflict to time, and the way atrocities have happened, do happen, and will continue to happen, until we as a global community decide to pursue a different way.



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