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Paradise Now
Micki Krimmel, 24 Oct 05

paradisenow.jpgI recently had the pleasure to attend a preview screening of Paradise Now, the new film by Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad. I cannot recommend this film strongly enough. First and foremost, Paradise Now is an engaging and deeply personal story of two young men trying to find their place in the world. It’s also a movie about suicide bombers.

Mark Gill, the President of Warner Independent Pictures, introduced the movie saying, “There is only one music cue in the entire film but you will feel like you have been ripped through a dramatic thriller like no other.”

Paradise Now follows two young men, Said and Khaled, on what is to be their last 48 hours of life.

Said and Khaled are childhood best friends working as mechanics in the poverty-stricken town of Nablus. Their day begins like any other, working, drinking tea and smoking from a hookah. Neither man is surprised when he is informed that the pair has been recruited to carry out a strike in Tel Aviv. They have been preparing for this for some time and the arrival of this day is inevitable. Once the decision is made, there is no turning back. There is a striking scene in an abandoned factory when the young men are fitted with their explosive devices. Jamal, the recruiter for the unnamed resistance organization, tells Said as he straps him in, “This new model has a lock mechanism. We’re the only people who can remove it.” He explains to Said that if things don’t go according to plan, they will be forced to detonate the bomb remotely in order to protect the organization.

Not surprisingly, things don’t go according to plan. After being dropped off at their location, Said and Khaled are separated. Jamal and the other members of the organization abandon the factory in fear that they have been betrayed. The young men who had planned to end their lives are now in a race against time for survival – so that they might try again. Amidst the drama and chaos that follows the failed mission, Said and Khaled both must face a much deeper conflict inside themselves.

After the film, Director, Hany Abu-Asaad was on hand for a panel discussion moderated by Nicolas Cull from USC. One of the panelists thanked Abu-Asaad for the film, congratulating him on humanizing Palestinians for American audiences. The New York Times expressed a similar sentiment. Abu-Asaad thought this was a simplification of his work. “I’m not making a film to humanize human beings… I’m using the language of film to show the complexities of things. It’s not black and white, not good and bad. It’s obvious that Palestinians are human beings. As a filmmaker, it is not my job to tell you what you already know.” I thought that was an interesting point. I did not get the sense that the film was sympathetic to either side of the political conflict. Rather, it’s a real, deep and intense personal view of how normal young men make the decision to do something so unimaginable.

Paradise Now is a beautifully-crafted work of art. When you take into account the circumstances in which it was made, it is all the more impressive. Excerpt from “A conversation with Hany Abu-Assaad,”

Describe the difficulties involved in shooting in Nablus.

To get into the area you have to get friendly with the Israeli army, to survive inside the area you have to work with the Palestinians. Immediately, it is a difficult task. To many Palestinians, we were instantly suspicious; how did we get in with so many people and so much material? Everybody wanted to read our script and many, not understanding what we were trying to do, drew different conclusions.

In Nablus, the Israeli Army invades the city almost everyday to arrest what they call the 'Wanted' Palestinians. At day-break the invasion starts with tanks rolling in, gunshots and rocket attacks and in the evening there is a curfew. We had to report our whereabouts to these armed Palestinian factions behind the backs of the Israeli Army, without the Israeli Army knowing we were in contact with the Palestinians, because getting in and out of Nablus was difficult enough as it was. On top of this, the rivalry between Palestinian factions meant approval from one faction and meant definite disapproval from the other. The rumor that we were doing something that was anti-suicide bombers was spreading fast, and one faction kidnapped our local location manager, Hassan Titi, and demanded that we leave Nablus.

That day there was an Israeli missile attack on a nearby car, and gunmen ordered us to leave, which was the last straw for six of our European crew members. They left and I don't blame them. They did the right thing. Life is more important than a film. We were too close to the destruction and the situation was getting worse. Most of the real danger was from the missiles. When we heard shooting, we could go somewhere else, but you don't see missiles coming. That is much more scary. For all these reason we had to stop the shooting and I had a few dilemmas to deal with: How do I get my location manager back, how can I stay friendly with the various Palestinian factions without the Israelis knowing about it and seeing me as one of them, risking a rocket attack? Where do I find six professional crew members on such short notice, whom I have to recruit by telling the reason why the others left?

I decided to contact Prime Minister Yasser Arafat, although I'd never met him. I knew for a fact that Arafat had never visited a cinema, however, he did help us obtain the release of our location manager who was returned two hours later.

But I was torn with a new dilemma. Should we stay in Nablus or should we go? If we left, we would justify the rumors that we were traitors. That would leave Hassan and the rest of our local crew who we would have to leave behind, as well as the factions that were on our side, in big trouble. If we stayed, we would have to continue working in a war zone and stand up against the rival factions. I decided to stay, it seemed the only option, but it created another dilemma; my producer Bero Beyer, wanted to leave. After a long fight I suggested the following to Bero: I would start a campaign in town to stop the rumors, without upsetting the Army. In the meantime, the local and international journalists were about to turn Hassan's kidnapping into world news. We asked them to hold, because we were afraid of what that might do. The rival faction started a counter campaign. They were handing out pamphlets saying that we were an American/Spanish conspiracy. So we were outlawed. It seemed that with every step in the right direction, we were pushed back two steps. Every plan we made to resume the shoot got torpedoed.

After three weeks at a standstill, we resumed working again. I will save you the details of the financial troubles we got ourselves into. Six new crew members were flown in and I continued, paranoid and under great stress, with my original plan: directing a movie, dealing with actors, crew and Mise en Scene.

Five days later, a land mine exploded 300 meters away from the set. We were running towards it; three young men died in the area we were shooting the night before, and the lead actress, Lubna Azabal, fainted. Though we wanted to continue filming in Nablus for authenticity and continuity, we felt we had no other choice but to leave. We decided to move the set to my birth city Nazareth and leave Nablus for good.

We took these ridiculous risks to make sure the film would be as close to reality as possible and to have an authentic look and feel. I understand why the Palestinian crew might do this, but I have wondered why the foreign crew would risk their lives.


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One of the panelists thanked Abu-Asaad for the film, congratulating him on humanizing Palestinians for American audiences. The New York Times expressed a similar sentiment.

I'm a small bit offended that the default assumption is that Americans _dont'_ think Palestinians are human - or at least Americans outside the confines of USC.

I know - you're only reporting what the panelist said, and the NYT thinks everone between Manhatten and USC is a hick. Still. Stereotyping is asinine even if the sterotypist is a credentialed academic.

Posted by: Brian on 24 Oct 05

Brian, I don't think that's quite the assumption. It's similar, but different; that Americans don't _think of_ Palestinians _as human_.

But this is not just Americans, it's the entire world. And it's not just Palestinians, but everything outside a person's relatively tiny social circle. Empathy is limited to those right in front of us, in order to actually function, we can't possibly extend it through the entire world at all times. We have to abstract away the details of the rest of the world, to summarise and "dehumanise" it until it becomes something we can reason about in a block. This usually comes down to numbers and to labels. So instead of thinking about humans, usually we think about 'war casualties' or 'AIDS victims' or 'refugees' or 'terrorists'. Or 'Palestinians'.

Turning the labels back into humans, at least for a little while, is the job of journalism and art.

Posted by: Dave on 24 Oct 05

could you be reading too far into this? i think the nyt and the panelist was commenting that the filmmaker seems to be "humanizing" the plight of palestinians, and especially suicide bombers by showing their feelings, emotions, motives, hopes and dreams, etc. there is no mention of "hicks" not understanding palestinians and filmakers often try to humanize characters from a young confused bruce wayne in "batman begins" to a vegas showgirl in "striptease".

what you feel about the NYT is your own opinion, but in this case, you seem to be simply jumping on top of nothing. i think your comments above are simply creating more "differences" between americans.

Posted by: Philip M. Jonat on 25 Oct 05

Impressive! A very difficult topic to address, however, the director was able to create empathy for the many young men and women desperate enough to view martyrdom as their only way out...beautiful footage and heart felt dialogue...i hope that many people will get the chance to view this movie.

Posted by: Tala on 1 Nov 05

One tragedy of the Palestinians plight is that they are denounced and then dismissed as fanatics. Yet, as an oppressed people, their options in life are limited and diminished. Boys grow up with narrowed choices and a true belief that the enemy is all around them. Small wonder that the young man then feels powerless to affect change without violence.

The enemy is always dehumanized; it a classic psychological ploy that one group has used to make it easier to oppress, enslave and destroy a rival group in conflicts from time immemorial. Dehumanizing begets devaluing, hatred begets anger, and both make for easier killing.

It is hard for those of us that are not Palestinian to understand the emotional world and thought processes that allow them to give their own lives and take so many others with them. If there is any universality to Paradise Now, it is in beginning to help us empathize with what we otherwise cannot really understand. We have not grown up Palestinian; theirs is an alternate reality. Until we understand that this reality needs changing and begin the process, should we be surprised that the destruction of lives continues?

Posted by: Randy Gottesfeld on 5 Nov 05

I saw the movie recently and was very impressed with the director's technique and the talent of the cast. However, as a student of the conflict, I was somewhat disturbed by the distortions of fact that so dehumanized the Israelis. Perhaps the worst of these was when, in an argument with one of the would be bombers, Suha tells him not to commit the bombing because it gives the Israelis an excuse to kill Palestinians. The bomber tells Suha that the Israelis would not stop killing Palestinians, anyway. The suicide bombings actually began in earnest when Israel offered territorial concessions, peace negotiations and the beginnings of sovereignty to the Palestinians. In the first two years after the Oslo accords, more Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinian bomb attacks than in the prior 15 years. There were many other factual errors, especially in Khaled's very well scripted and very funny videotaped farewell.

Posted by: Martin Austin on 10 Nov 05



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