The Palestinian drama Paradise Now may be nominated for an Academy Award under the category of Best Foreign Language Film and winner of a recent Golden Globe Award, but it definitely is the recipient of outright criticism in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Why would a movie that is not even playing in Nablus and yet can be found at very few cinemas in Israel be the source of such controversy?
Palestinians say it didn’t help their cause because it was for the “good of Israel.” Meanwhile, the movie was banned from most Israeli theaters for censorship reasons because of its political content.
Paradise Now takes viewers inside the Palestinian town of Nablus (Shechem), into a typical day in the lives of two young men. Sa’id (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) work at a junkyard and sit around drinking tea and smoking hookah (a water pipe), an accurate portrayal of Palestinian life.
The residents refer to Israel as the “Zionist occupation” and Israelis as “Zionists,” not acknowledging the Jewish state, as they do in real life.
Both Sa’id and Khaled are also members of the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad, which they joined by choice. They have been selected to carry out a special mission - a double suicide attack in Tel Aviv as they requested to die together as martyrs.
Sa’id and Khaled though are faced with a dilemma when they meet a beautiful young woman named Suha, the daughter of Abu Assam, a revered shahid (martyr in Arabic). Suha is the model Palestinian westerner, born in France, and raised in Morocco.
She returns to Nablus to volunteer with a human rights organization and questions terrorism on theological and practical grounds. Suha believes suicide bombings create innocent victims and inspire retaliation, which only continues the cycle of violence.
These thoughts infiltrate into the minds of Sa’id and Khaled whose whole lives have been ingrained with the propaganda of ‘paradise.’ When they die for Allah and for the Palestinian cause, two angels will take them to heaven and present them with 70 virgins.
They are groomed to look like businessmen, give their videotaped suicide speech and are fed their last big meal. As they drive through the checkpoint an Israeli patrol spots them and they flee. The two reconsider what they are going to do.
This leaves the two with a choice, they are given an option and the road they choose to take carries life-long consequences for both Israelis and Palestinians. But Director Hany Abu Assad’s message is clear as stated in the trailer: “Sometimes the most courageous act is what you don’t do.”
One opts for life and the other death. In this, Abu Assad succeeds in taking the middle ground.
- Sara Fischer –