Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Paradise Now, Curfew and Divine Intervention

As Palestinian films, both Abu-Assad's Paradise Now and Masharawi's Curfew convey the Palestinian "experience" through "a reality of distress and siege, of a perpetual hopeless downfall"[1]. In Paradise Now, the presence of the broken cars, references to water filters and general decay under the occupation serve as a backdrop for the events that eventually lead to Said (Kais Nashif's character) boarding a bus full of IDF soldiers. We never see an explosion, and much of his motivation derives largely from his feelings following his father's collaboration with the occupier than rather what indoctrination him and Khaled (Ali Suliman) might have been subjected to. As such, Paradise Now diffuses what spectacle could have been derived from a film dealing with suicide bombers, and as Nouri Gana notes, obstructs the "consumption of reel violence" while placing suicide resistance in the "historical continuum of narrative nationhood"[2]. But while the film avoids the spectacle, it nevertheless shares the common theme of the perpetual hopeless downfall that is so prevalent in Curfew. Together, the films function to define the image of a nation under occupation, an image which is used not only arouse sympathy (in a somewhat similar manner to the IRA's "sympathy through failure" strategy[3]) but more importantly in defining a blueprint for representing Palestinians as a people united in the face of the occupation.

By contrast, Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention not only revels in the spectacle, it further goes against the very image established in Abu-Assad's and Masharawi's films. Granted, his film is set in Nazareth and Jerusalem, which are part of Israel proper and as such not subjected to the same difficulties that the characters in Paradise Now or Curfew might have been dealing with, but the image of Palestinians is nevertheless very different. No longer does one see this unified people in the face of an oppressor, but rather, Suleiman's Palestinians fight among themselves, expressing "frustrations that start to be unleashed against each other"[4]. While Suleiman does point out that this might be a particularity of Palestinians living in Israel as opposed to the West Bank, he also mentions that it is symptomatic to ghettos in general. Suleiman's departure from the norm of representing the nation under siege is perhaps better articulated in an earlier interview with him from 2000, where he talks of his attempts to "deconstruct [the] imposed national image" through which he tries to produce "something beyond a static ideological position, beyond the ideological definition or representation of what it is to be a Palestinian"[5].

It is perhaps this attempt that exemplifies the dichotomy that is Suleiman's work as a Palestinian director (and more broadly, that of other directors associated with a national cinema). On one hand, his work is distinctly Palestinian, dealing with Palestinian people and Palestinian matters, on the other hand, he does not deal with this in a manner which became a signature of Palestinian cinema though the works of directors such as Abu-Assad and Masharawi. This is the paradox that every national cinema is faced with but which it must ultimately overcome in order to transcend a cinema ruled by one or a handful of typical images exemplifying the nation, towards becoming a cinema rife with a multitude of dissonant voices, together forming the nation which they are part of, instead of the nation which they are "supposed" to be part of. Considering this, Elia Suleiman is perhaps one of the most valuable directors of Palestinian national cinema on its path to assert itself not only among other national cinemas, but also among other nations.

[1] Nurith, Gertz, George Khleifi. “Without Place, Without Time: The Films of Rashid Masharawi.” Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma and Memory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. 117

[2] Nouri, Gana. “Reel Violence: Paradise Now and the Collapse of the Spectacle.” Comparative Studies of Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle-East, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2008, 37

[3] Richard Kearney, "The IRA's Strategy of Failure." The Crane Bag, M. Hederman and Richard Kearney, eds., (Dublin: Wolfhound, 1982), 700-702

[4] "The Occupation( (and Life) through an Absurdist Lens” The Journal of Palestine Studies. Vol. 23 No. 2 (Winter, 2003), pp. 70

[5] “A Cinema of Nowhere: An Interview with Elia Suleiman.” Journal of Palestine Studies. Vol. 29 No. 2 (Winter, 2000), pp. 99.

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