'Paradise Now', an account of what could be the final days in the lives of two suicide bombers, was a film made under extreme duress: filming was held up regularly by outbreaks of gunfire; once, an Israeli helicopter gun-ship opened fire on a car on the set; and later, the location manager was kidnapped by Palestinian militants who demanded that the film be shut down.
Like a hieroglyph for suicide bombing, 'Paradise Now' is complex and multi-layered and its abrupt ending suggests that Abu-Assad does not intend for this to be the last word on the matter. It is clearly intended to inspire debate and discussion.
Some of that debate and discussion should deal with the flaws within the film itself. While it seems churlish to discuss matters such as editing in a film with as weighty a topic as this, 'Paradise Now' is occasionally less fluid than it could be. The story hops from scene to scene, leaving the viewer to hastily fill in the gaps.
Even so, 'Paradise Now' deals commendably with a topic that could easily have overwhelmed the film. The acting is often superb and the script intelligent (and surprisingly funny at times). Moreover, while films like 'Munich' and 'Syriana' attempted to tackle a complex issue in less than two hours, 'Paradise Now' takes an entirely different approach. Instead of just a start, middle and end, it uses the story of Said (Nashef) and Khaled (Suliman) as a vehicle into which it throws several sub-plots and characters, all of whom serve to illustrate the point.
The point of the film, predictably, has caused some heated debate. While many have claimed that 'Paradise Now' aims to humanise the suicide bombers, this is a superficial reading of the film. Just humanising them would cause problems, since it prevents the audience from completely understanding their actions: Said and Khaled, the two would-be bombers, are presented as two normal guys, mechanics, who seem to be a million miles away from the fanatics that organise the suicide mission.
In fact, the film actually attempts to portray a culture in which violent insurrection is seen as just and the effect of such a culture on ordinary members of such a society. In between the development of Said's and Khaled's story we see a part of the world in which it as honourable to die in the act of murdering your enemy, in which video stores do a lively trade in taped 'confessions' by tortured traitors, in which a man is driven to desperate acts to restore his family's honour, and in which the fanatical view is the most commonly-held one.
Importantly, at no point during the film do we see either Khaled or Said suffering at the hands of the Israeli occupation. It appears that the two men are largely unperturbed by the occupation. In the end Said seems to be motivated not by a desire to wound his perceived oppressors, but to restore his family's reputation within a society so rife with violence that it saw as a traitor a man who preferred to save his family than die for Palestine.
'Paradise Now' is not easy viewing, and its message does not reveal itself readily, since its aim is to spark intelligent debate. It does not contain all the answers, nor does it claim to, though it does strongly suggest that it is the claustrophobic, and indeed xenophobic, nature of the occupied territories that creates suicide bombers, rather than simply the occupation.
Barry J Whyte