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Israeli Arab stirs the pot with absurdist film on Middle East.
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MIN MI MI
before your mother!
ivine Intervention, by the
Israeli Arab filmmaker Elia
Suleiman, has been -
embraced by most critics as
a brilliant absurdist comedy, recalling
the style of French director Jacques Tati
and the silent movie skits of Buster
Keaton and the early Charlie Chaplin.
On the other hand, the film's glacial
pace, repetitive situations and minimal-
ist style may try the attention span of
all but the most devoted moviegoers.
The film has also been the subject of
an Oscar controversy.
The 89-minute movie was written
and filmed just before the outbreak of
the current intifilda in September
2000. It unfolds as an impressionistic
journey through contemporary Israel,
as viewed through the eyes of
Suleiman, a secular Christian Arab
born and raised in Nazareth.
A series of sketches are tenuously
held together by a plot line involving
• E.S., a thoroughly modern but utter-
ly silent resident of Jerusalem (portrayed
by writer-director Suleiman himself);
• his beloved, defined only as The
Woman, a strikingly beautiful journalist
(Manal Khader) living on the other side
of Israel's pre-1967 border in the West
Bank city of Ramallah; and
• E.S.'s dying father (Nayef Fahoum
Daher) in Nazareth.
Dividing the lovers, as a symbol of
Israeli domination, is a military check-
point between Jerusalem and
Arriving in their cars from different
directions, the lovers rendezvous at an
empty lot next to the checkpoint,
where they spend a great deal of time
in intricate handholding without say-
ing a word.
They have plenty of time to stare at
the checkpoint, where Israeli soldiers
(played by actual army veterans) halt,
pass and humiliate Arab motorists,
more or less arbitrarily.
Other scenes edge into sheer fan-
tasies of Palestinian revenge. E.S., who
logs a lot of miles between Jerusalem,
Nazareth and the checkpoint, tosses an
apricot pit out of the car window that
explodes an adjacent Israeli tank.
In another scene, The Woman,
looking every inch a French fashion
model, flounces across the checkpoint
line in front of the open-mouthed sol-
diers, with their guard post collapsing
as she passes.
In the final, most spectacular, scene,
The Woman is transformed into a
whirling Ninja, deflecting the bullets
of an Israeli platoon with a gleaming
shield in the shape of pre-1948
each other's back yard, chain-smoking
cigarettes, and cursing each other in
the most pungent language.
Divine. Intervention, in Arabic with
some Hebrew and with English subti-
tles, is billed as a "France/Palestine co-
production" and won two of the top
prizes at last year's Cannes Film
Festival, and another at the European
Film Awards, beating out My Big Fat
"My films are first an expression of who I am
a little distant, a little alienated, very sad.
— Elia Suleiman
Palestine, and casually destroying a
While Suleiman has no love for the
Israeli Jews, his take on his fellow
Arabs is hardly more flattering.
Speaking of his fellow Nazareth resi-
dents, Suleiman has described them as
"occupied, not militarily; but psycho-
logically. There is a total disintegration
of any form of social communication
or harmony among them."
Indeed, he says, they spend a great
deal of time throwing garbage into
The film's promoters say the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences rejected the film as a con-
tender for best foreign-language movie
honors for this year's Oscars on the
grounds that Palestine is not a country.
The Arab-American Anti-
Discrimination Committee has inti-
mated that pro-Israel sentiment in
Hollywood played a part in the alleged
Academy spokesman John Pavlik
rejoined that Divine Intervention was
Unsettling comedy skewers Arabs and Israelis.
Special to the Jewish News
lia Suleiman's existential
Mideast comedy Divine
Intervention: A Chronicle of
Love and Pain opens with a
pack of Arab boys pursuing a
gift-toting Santa Claus up a
After 90 minutes of similarly
ambiguous sequences, the film con-
cludes with as explicit an image as you
could ask for — a pressure cooker
simmering on a stove.
With its skeletal plot, nonlinear
structure and pent-up rage over the
continuing state of Israeli-Palestinian
relations, Divine Intervention is a chal-
lenging as well as disturbing film.
Funny, smart and brilliantly cinematic,
it's filled with moments of both pleas-
ure and mystery.
Suleiman studied film in New York
and moved to Jerusalem in the mid-
1990s to start the Department
of Film and Media Studies at
Bir Zeit University in
Ramallah. So it's not surprising
that Divine Intervention, which
screened in Jerusalem and was
reviewed in the Jerusalem Post, defies
preconceptions of Palestinian cinema.
The first half of Divine Intervention
centers on a resentful older man and
his malevolently petty Nazareth neigh-