During an interview with the Guardian newspaper, upon the release of Paradise Now, director Hany Abu-Assad stated that “The film is an artistic point of view of that political issue. The politicians want to see it as black and white, good and evil, and art wants to see it as a human thing.” The film is a political statement, but it is more than just a story about politics. This is a story about friendship, human tragedy, and the need for compassion for our fellow human beings.
It is a remarkable film, which goes beyond the headlines, and the news reports, to show how ordinary individuals are affected by war, occupation, and religious fundamentalism. Importantly, this film shows us that nothing can be achieved by bloodshed, violence and death. We can only achieve peace, by learning to accept others, and by communicating with them to resolve our issues through cooperation and respect.
The film follows the story of Saïd (Kais Nashef), who works in a dead-end job together with his best friend Khaled (Ali Suliman), labouring in an automobile salvage yard that’s part dump, part repair shop. In the midst of a stretch of endless time spent tinkering with cars, fighting with customers and swapping tales about their dismal lives, he meets a Suha (Lubna Azabal ), the daughter of a martyr, who has recently returned from exile. One night, flirting, they talk about their lives. “Do you like movies?” she asks. Saïd replies back with an honest confession, “We burned down the cinema.” Suha is the voice of reason in this film, and says the most important line in the film: If you can kill and die for equality, you should be able to find a way to be equal in life.
One day, a mysterious man shows up, who informs the two friends that they have been chosen to carry out the next suicide bombing. The target is Tel Aviv, a place they’ve never been. We find ourselves suddenly asking a series of questions, eager to find out the answers. Will they be stopped? Will Saïd’s love for Suha intervene? Will Khaled change his mind? Will the mission go forward? Will anyone be killed? And can their friendship survive this unthinkable task?
The film ends on a cliff hanger, and left me on the edge of my seat, holding my breath as I prepared myself for the outcome. There is no relief, and more importantly there isn’t a happy ending. What the director manages to do here, is show us a true depiction of how reality never really has everything resolved, and that ordinary people can commit terrible acts.
Abu-Assad and co-writer Bero Beyer, started working on the script in 1999, but it took them five years to begin the film’s production. The original script was about one man searching for his friend, who is a suicide bomber, but it evolved into a story of two friends, Said and Khaled. Despite dealing with the concept of suicide bombers, the film does not glamorize these horrendous deeds. And, instead takes a more intimate look into the making of a martyr; deconstructing the motivations behind those who have willed themselves to political suicide, as well as presenting arguments for a more peaceful resolution through negotiations.
The director and writer made a bold decision to mock the promise of the martyrs going to Heaven after the violent act of murder is committed, showing us just how gullible and easily manipulated would-be martyrs can be. Strangely a comparison can be made with how criminal gangs recruit young members, by the promise of glory, and fame.
When researching about this film, I found out some very interesting details. In order to shoot Paradise Now, the director led a caravan of 30 trucks and crew made of 70 people and equipment into Nablus. And, when asked about his experience he is on record saying, “It was kind of insane to shoot there.” Gunfire erupted constantly. They lived in fear of Israeli missile attacks. In fact, things took an even more sinister turn when a local location-manager was kidnapped, and eventually released.
While filming in Nablus, Israeli helicopter gunships launched a missile attack on a car near the film’s set one day. It was these reasons that many of the members of his European crew actually quit. Some Palestinians thought the film was against them, others thought it was championing freedom and democracy; one day armed militants showed up demanding to see the script. Finally, the shooting of Paradise Now had to relocated to Nazareth. And Abu-Assad continued the filming of his fiction film about the very real tragedies of Palestinian life in Nablus.
Paradise Now is a film rooted in realism, despite its fictional storyline, with two very strong performances. Focusing on the psychological and ideological elements of this complicated predicament, that is very much a reality today. In my opinion, this is an unbiased view of how these people see things. I even found myself sympathizing with the main characters, as they seem so down to Earth, so ordinary, and so clear haunted by the past decisions their fathers made.
The film shows us something that often gets overlooked, the real reasons why individuals become terrorists. I would hope that people see this film and realise that violence is never the answer, and that we should all try to empathise with those we consider our enemies.