Don’t let the title mislead you. This is a film about a disconcerting, sickening act – a suicide bombing of a bus – but these bombers aren’t religious fanatics, their motivations aren’t alien or easily dismissed. Far from it. The great power of this film, from Dutch-Palestinian director Abu-Assad, is to show how complex, shifting and uncertain the bombers’ motivations are. They are, at one and the same time, down to earth and pressing; personal, even banal, and altruistic.
The film, the first feature shot on the West Bank, conveys a sense of hopelessness and fatigue, of the dominating presence of occupation, and the overriding question – how to end it. Said and Khaled, lifelong friends living in a refugee camp, want to fight back, and given Israel’s massive superiority in weapons and technology, see no strategic military alternative to suicide bombing. They believe their sacrifice will help to end the occupation.
Khaled is naïve. He’s attracted by the glamour of the martyr – the tapes on sale, the posters in the town centre, his meeting with the factional leaders. Said is steadier, more rounded, and drawn to Suha, daughter of a resistance fighter and a human rights activist who argues for peaceful resistance. Suicide bombing, she argues, only strengthens the Israeli Government. But Said is deeply traumatized by occupation, and his father’s death. As for many Palestinians, the political has become profoundly personal, and he’s implacable.
*Paradise Now* is well crafted, gripping and surprising, but it’s trivializing to call it a political thriller – such is its authenticity and gravity.