Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention

Suleiman's Divine Intervention uses the concept of Foucault's "effective history" to transform the "historian's history" that the nationalistic nation-state uses to assert its validity into a different form of time which challenges it. Suleiman does this using both the narrative and the form of Divine Intervention.

As he explains in the interview, by discovering nonlinear cinema and using this mode of narration to advance his story, he is expressing his resentment to the "usual mode of representation" that he associates with the "falsity in the way that … many films are constructed"[1]. He describes this usual mode of representation in which many films are constructed as "films that on the surface looked harmless, but in fact were proposing a hidden political platform, an equivalency"[2]. In order to avoid conforming to this mode of representation, he breaks down linearity with both his non-linear structure (often different parts of the story are not presented in the chronological order that they would have happened) but also in the melding of reality and dream-imagery. While the story advances, some scenes (like the scene where E.S. arranges post-it notes on his wall with descriptions of the other scenes in the film) imply not only that some scenes in the film might be part of a fiction defined by another part of the film, but also that their linearity is constantly changing as E.S. rearranges the notes on his wall. In this sense, this is a quite literal visual illustration of Foucault's transformation of history into a totally different form of time.

Regarding the discourse around nation states and nationalism, Suleiman uses both the withholding of information (like the identity of Manal Khader's character and her relationship to E.S.) and the overabundance of thereof to the point of fantasy (as in the Palestinian ninja sequence and tank explosion) to illustrate his point. When discussing the concept and importance of silence in his film, Suleiman points out that he uses it not only for politics ("silence is very political – what it conveys depends on how you use it"[3]) but also for providing his opinion on the matter and its causes ("silence shows a breakdown of communication"[4]) and allowing the viewer to express their own ("Silence allows space for the spectator", "it allows the potentiality for the spectator to participate, to co-produce the image"[5]). As such, he not only provides an alternative to the discourse on nation-states/nationalism, but he also leaves the possibility for the viewer to add their own opinion to the discourse. Essentially the lack of information/silence is Suleiman's way of telling us that not saying/refraining from saying something can very well function as a political tool, and that the viewer should question lack of information in the same way they would the presence thereof. Further, the "breakdown of communication" shows that what is communicated in one way is not necessarily the way that it appears and might in fact function in a different way than it would seem. Often breakdown of communication is used, in Divine Intervention to express the banality of the situation (such as the tourist asking for directions and the blind prisoner providing them) which in turns shows the banality of the discourse itself. Finally, the silence that allows the spectator to participate, in addition to involving them in the decision making process of meaning, opens the door for the existence of this possibility to begin with. It essentially puts the spectator in a position where they are able not only to question what is on the screen, but further draw their own conclusions and form their own opinion on the matter (as opposed to blindly 'assimilating' opinions expressed in the film, if not straight out accepting them).

Finally, the form of Divine Intervention allows Suleiman to express his view of the Palestine that transcends a mere geopolitical entity or a nationalistic idea[6]. The fantastic imagery gives way to an abstraction of idea through form that is all encompassing. Suleiman's Palestine is in essence the entirety of the Palestinian people, their wishes, dreams, aspirations, fantasies, culture, art, hearts, souls and ninjas. It is, quite simply put, an abstract but real, an imagined but remembered, a state but not a state, a reality but also a dream, a 'Palestine'.

[1] "The Occupation (and Life) through an Absurdist Lens” The Journal of Palestine Studies. Vol. 23 No. 2 (Winter, 2003), pp. 66

[2] Ibid., 67

[3] Ibid., 68

[4] Ibid., 68

[5] Ibid., 69

[6] Ibid., 73

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