Paradise Now

  • Runtime: 90min.
  • Director: Hany Abu
  • MPAA Rating:
  • Year: 2005

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Current Rating 8.56/10 | 18 Votes

Produced by Bero Beyer

Cast: Kais Nashif, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal, Hiam Abbass, Amer Hlehel, Ashraf Barhoum.


A humane and sensitively filmed story of an extremely touchy subject, Paradise Now follows two Palestinian suicide bombers from their recruitment to the end of their mission. Director Hany Abu-Assad manages to escape clichés and stereotypes to present the political and social situation of Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories both personally and more broadly through vignettes of the daily experience of people living in Nablus. The simmering mood of violence there and the need for vengeance and retribution are shown as direct consequences of disempowerment. Some heated dialectic covering the many arguments for and against suicide bombing intersperses two outstanding elements in Paradise Now: the characterisation of the two young men, and the extraordinary extent to which the chaos and restrictions of living in occupied territory becomes a palpably oppressive force in the film.


Saïd (Kais Nashif) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) are friends who work as auto mechanics in Nablus. Reacting in violent frustration to a fractious customer, Khaled is fired, but it doesn’t really matter. They’re shortly informed by the quietly spoken, serious Jamal (Amer Hlehel) that they’ve been selected for a suicide bomb mission the next day, in Tel Aviv. Though their future is now suddenly, utterly changed, the pace of the film does not yet greatly alter. The mood is fatalistic and grave, though Khaled’s sudden purposefulness seems conditioned rather than real. Tension builds slowly through different viewpoints expressed and the sacred preparation these young men, about to be martyrs, undergo. The ever-present situational tension is a background to this.


The two young men cannot reveal their mission, even to those closest to them. It’s apparent that though in theory they agree that martyrdom is the only way the plight of Palestinians can be brought to the world’s notice (“Our bodies are all we have left to fight with”), the crux of their own involvement makes for subtle individual and evolving differences in their attitudes. Saïd seems distracted and is less certain than his friend. As Khaled makes the martyr’s customary last ‘freedom statement’ on video, with the traditional Palestinian yashmagh draped around his shoulders and automatic rifle angled up in the right hand, the look is dramatic and the content apparently sincere till the tension is broken by the discovery of the camera not working.  Ever impatient, Khaled replaces his read statement with a pragmatic instruction to his mother about where to get the best water filter. He won’t have the chance to speak to her again.


In the process of their ritualistic, prayerful preparation they emerge looking radically different from their casually dressed Palestinian selves – “like settlers” in black suits and ties and white shirts, their hair shorn short. There’s a weirdly evocative last supper. In their settler attire they look purposeful and completely out of place at say, a Palestinian bus-stop.


Their mission is the first in two years. It has been carefully planned but something goes wrong at the wire-fenced border and they are split up – Khaled returning to the tile-factory headquarters and Saïd left behind in no-man’s land like a rabbit frantically trying to get back to his burrow. The organiser Abu-Karem (Ashraf Barhoum) grills a bewildered Khaled relentlessly. It is some time before Saïd returns, and in this interim period of fear and uncertainty when their mission may be aborted, his experiences have forged something deeper and resolved in him, and likewise in Khaled, who has had the chance to examine his feelings more closely. Both come to a more authentic, personal, stand.


Personal and political opinions are shunted back and forth. In a town where ‘martyr videos’ are for sale or rent, Suha (Lubna Azabal) is angry that ‘collaborator videos’ cost the same amount. Suha’s father was a martyr, held in much awe by the younger men, but she would prefer he were still alive to talk to, and she is passionate about diplomatic solutions and an end to violence. An educated woman with experience of life outside the occupied territories, she is freer than any of the other characters.  On the other hand, Saïd’s father was a collaborator who was executed in a refugee camp. Stunned, Suha asks if he would like to talk about it. Saïd is scornful, “Why talk? To get your pity, or to entertain people whose life is a little better?” It’s his way of keeping his rage simmering and his resolve firm. At one point Khaled says, “As long as there is injustice there must be sacrifice. I would rather have paradise in my heart than live in this hell.”


The director’s own statement, in the mouth of Saïd when interrogated by Abu-Karem on his return, is more generally about redressing the balance of weakness and humiliation by refusing to be victims, though Saïd’s reasons are personal. Before filming, writer/director Hany Abu-Assad read interrogation transcripts of interviews of failed suicide bombers in prison and spoke to the families and friends of suicide bombers. His conclusion was that all are from different walks of life and have different reasons for their extreme action. The film is a significant attempt to bring to light unseen motivations beneath violence and bloodshed deplored the world over, even by Palestinians themselves.


The images on this film are compelling. The opening image of Suha at a checkpoint going into Nablus sparks with suspicion as the armed Israeli guard scrutinises her papers and searches her bag. Equally ominous is a brief scene of Suha and other townsfolk leaving a taxi at a checkpoint and scurrying down a hillside, ducking at the sound of an explosion. The bomb maker at Abu-Karem’s headquarters has no hands, and makes his delicate creations with prosthetics. Saïd runs at full pelt between the decaying, ruined buildings of the blasted town of Nablus, and the contrast with the affluent orderliness of Tel Aviv is wild. The silent, sombre care with which the bombs are strapped to these live missiles is harrowing, as are their last instructions: “If a soldier insists on checking you, let him do it at the gates of Paradise. The other is not to watch.” And the final image, in utter silence on a bus in Tel Aviv, brings profound and chilling understanding.


© Avril Carruthers    27th October 2005

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