Paradise Now (2005, directed by Hany Abu-Assad)
Reviewed by Volker Poelzl
Living Abroad Contributing Editor
Paradise Now is a controversial Oscar-nominated drama about life in the West Bank, a small strip of land occupied by Israel since 1967 and populated by Palestinians. The movie tells the story of two young men, Said and Khaled, close childhood friends, who volunteer as suicide bombers for a radical and militant Palestinian group. The movie follows them on their dramatic and difficult journey during the 36 hours before the planned bomb attack in Tel Aviv, as they struggle to come to terms with their planned suicide mission.
What makes this movie so captivating is the fact that it avoids action scenes and violence in favor of drama, even though the entire movie evolves around a planned terrorist act. And despite the difficult subject matter, the movie is far from condoning violence or preaching peace. Instead, writer and director Hany Abu-Assad presents a thoughtful and realistic portrayal of the difficult reality of life faced by Palestinians today, as they struggle for a sovereign homeland, while needing to make peace with Israel.
The movie is also a psychological study of the main characters, Said and Khaled, as they prepare for their suicide attack and get ready to say goodbye to this earthly world and enter “paradise now”. However, the two friends get separated during their illegal border crossing into Israel and are now alone to confront doubts about their missions and their faith in the Jihad, and to decide if and how they should carry out the suicide bombings.
Hany Abu-Assad also touches on the conflict within the Palestinian community, where some residents collaborate with Israel as informants, while others plot violent attacks against Israeli targets, creating a climate of distrust and suspicion among Palestinians, as they struggle for survival in their existence in the West Bank.
The movie was nominated for an Oscar in 2006 for best foreign language film, and received numerous awards at international film festivals. It is definitely worth seeing.