Movies We Like
The marriage between religion and politics has no known date. To explore this link with films is to visually investigate the times and reasons for which people intertwine the two in order to make sense of their disrupted lives and societies. Hany Abu-Assad's Paradise Now is the story of two friends whose lives have been torn apart by institutional violence and injustice. At first glance, they appear to be unaffected by their environment until a commitment made years before manifests the horrific day when they are called upon to become martyrs for a cause that they don't fully understand.
The story takes place in modern times with the Muslim dominated Palestine being in a constant state of war with the Zionist/Jewish society of Israel. Said (Kais Nashif) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) are two childhood friends who agreed as teenagers to carry out a suicide bombing together for an organization which has been plotting its next attack for over two years. Each man, now in their early twenties, is visited separately by their messenger Jamal (Amer Hlehel) and told that the bombing will happen in less than 24 hours. The two begin saying goodbye to their families in order to prepare for their brief training.
Shortly before they were visited by Jamal, Said meets Suha (Lubna Azabal)—a beautiful woman who happens to be the daughter of Abu Kazzam, the innovator of their movement who is regarded as one of the most important martyrs of their time. His involvement with her complicates things. On one hand, he is honored to be attracted to and spend a very short amount of time with the daughter of a local hero; but on the other, he understands that he has made the decision to die for his cause, and that Suha does not approve of his quest for martyrdom.
Once at their training grounds, the two men record videos to send to their families and the world. They are bathed and must shave their beards in order to pass as Israelis. In order to prepare for the possibility of being stopped by authorities, the two wear suits and are told to say that they are attending a wedding. They are given false names and discuss the workings of the Koran in order to become more familiar with it. The final and most symbolic aspect of their preparation happens in what is to be their final meal, with the two sitting towards the center of the table amongst other militant radicals. The only thing stopping it from looking biblical were the automatic weapons propped up beside everyone at the table, but it was still a very beautiful and impressive scene.
On the day of the planned event, the two men attempt to cross the border but are discovered by the authorities and pursued. The two split up and Khaled successfully goes back onto Palestinian ground as Said becomes lost and remains on Israeli soil. While separated, the doubts and moral questions that both men talked about in secrecy with each other must now be dealt with alone. In the end, one man decided to be his own hero and walks away from the bombing. The other goes through with the mission and the idea that death is still somehow better than inferiority. The idea expressed by the latter is a common message that is passed onto suicide bombers, many of which are young and unwed. Being lured into the idea of being a part of something larger than life actually takes a hold of one's life. The two lead actors portraying these individuals are outstanding, and the camerawork was well-paced and sharp. Definitely one of my favorite films on friendship and hard choices and most certainly not to be missed.
Paradise Now was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.