dir: Hany Abu-Assad
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How excited are you about reading a review of a film about two Palestinian suicide bombers? Thrilled, I imagine. As the eyes gloss over, and you open another browser window in order to check out the latest news on some celebrity’s sex scandal shocker, you’ll admit to yourself that sometimes it’s all right, but generally, worthy cinema about the world’s problems bores you to tears.
And who can blame you? The world is filled with such terrible occurrences on a second-to-second basis that it’s hard not to say “Fuck it, I can’t care anymore, I’m having another shot of whisky and another toke on the dutchy” which, as anyone who remembers the 80s knows, should always be passed on the left-hand side.
So maybe a story told from the point of view of two potential suicide bombers isn’t going to be your cup of tea. And if you do see it, it’ll be to impress some earnest and hot international student at your uni who you want to leave with the significant impression that you’re switched on about big worldly issues and therefore eminently fuckable.
For my money, this low budget but well put-together film was an interesting way to spend my Wednesday morning. Shot in Nablus and Nazareth, for a work of fiction it looks horribly real.
Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), two knock-about Palestinian guys from Nablus, who’ve clearly been friends since childhood, are fortunate enough to be selected to martyr themselves by way of being turned into walking bombs. The organisation who puts them forward are clearly fucked up enough to get people to kill themselves on behalf of their nebulous dreams of statehood and revenge, but smart enough not to be the ones who actually do the dying.
Khaled is impulsive, hot-tempered, and maybe not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Said is more thoughtful, and maybe more worldly, but his eyes burn with… something. They’ve volunteered for this for different reasons, but the outcome is supposed to be the same.
Since the story is told in Arabic, and all the characters are Palestinian, you may be under the mistaken impression that it supports the actions of the terrorist / martyr / freedom fighter / fruitloop brigades. It clearly does not. It looks at the festering wound that is the relationship between Israel and the disenfranchised Palestinians, and it clearly, openly says “this is not the way to solve it.”
Of course the characters blame all their problems on Israel, fairly and unfairly. Of course, in some instances, characters talking about having grown up in refugee camps, who’ve lost family members at random, seem perfectly entitled to hold some resentment towards the people they see as keeping them down, who remind them daily of their second-class status with ubiquitous road blocks and the constant threat of bullets or gunship rockets.
The religious angle, in terms of the “Allah will send an angel to pick you up after your martyrdom” is done in such a way that the person saying it and those hearing it clearly don’t believe it. It is not the lure of virgins and wine that prompts them to this horrible action, but the illusion of revenge for their people’s humiliation, to remind Israel that though the Palestinians are without military power, they can still hurt them where they live.
Said is motivated by his family’s specific shame. It burns in him so fiercely that any possibility of a different life, any notion of living differently seems impossible to him.
On the way to complete their mission, after a day of being supervised by the tools of Hamas or whatever other violent lunatic organisation cultivates them, the path to their goal is obstructed by chance. They undergo some experiences which make them question their course of action.
The film is simple, it’s told in a straight-forward manner, the arguments are not really between characters, they’re really between the different viewpoints existing within the Palestinian nation and the world that looks on with a mixture of horror and boredom.
Suha (Lubna Azabal), a woman with a broader range of experience than any of the other characters, argues passionately and intelligently that the Palestinian terrorist attacks allow Israel to legitimise its treatment of the Palestinians, and that without moral activism the situation will only keep getting worse.
She and Said have some connection, emotional and sexual, which offers him (and us) some glimmer of hope that he will change his mind and find something to live for in her. She is also obviously the smartest person he knows, who does more for Palestinian rights her way than a legion of kitted-up fools ever could do.
In one telling section, she points out how bizarre it is that a salesman has a roaring trade selling videos of martyrs on their way to murder innocents in the name of revenge for 60 years of wrongs. He also sells videos of Palestinian collaborators (those who inform on terrorists) being executed by the faithful. He admits that the demand for the execution videos far exceeds that of the martyr videos, but he has to charge the same for them (15 shekels) or it would ruin the deal he has with their “producers”.
Is it not strange that the market for the bloodthirsty product far exceeds that of the ‘holy’?
Everything is done calmly in this film. The organisers and their righteous tools carry out their actions without extreme emotion or howling madly. Even the bomb-maker, someone who looks like a child, constructs the bombs patiently, despite having no hands. He uses these prosthetic claws to solder the working bits of the vest together, and it has a bitter irony to it.
Another irony that won’t be lost on the viewer is that with 90 per cent of the flick transpiring in the West Bank, which looks like what it is, I guess: a war zone, crumbling apart and bombed to the point where it looks like Beirut did twenty years ago, when we glimpse Israel, it looks like the prosperous Promised Land indeed.
It is a good film. It flies by, and it has this keen tension because you’re not always sure how events are going to transpire, and because some characters spend most of the film with powerful explosives strapped to their chests.
It doesn’t offer blind hope, but it does ask for a different way. It is worth it to watch Said’s burning eyes alone. They say more about the ‘struggle’, about Palestine’s contradictory and self-defeating fight and the alternate paths different people choose because of their natures and their experiences, than all the dialogue in the world ever could.
There’s nothing ‘earnest’, ‘worthy’, United Nations or ‘shine on your brothers, everybody get together, try to love one another right now’ about this film. But there is a hell of a lot of messy honesty.
7 times you should See My Vest, See My Vest, See My *kaboom* out of 10
“You have been honoured by being the next selected for martyrdom.” – Paradise Now.