Directed by Hany Abu-Assad. Starring Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal, Amer Hlehel, Hiam Abbass, Ashraf Barhom, Mohammad Bustami. (2005, PG-13, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 18, 2005
Inside the mind of a Palestinian suicide bomber: That’s the guarded territory broached in Paradise Now as two young men from the West Bank city of Nablus are given 24 hours' notice that they are next in line to cross over to Tel Aviv and pull the final rip cord on themselves and as many Israelis as possible. Yet instead of a penetrating psychological study, Paradise Now is fashioned as a thriller, not so much a whodunit as a whetherdunit. Conviction mingles with vacillation, and once an unexpected hitch in the suicide plan arises, all bets are off. Auto mechanics Said (Nashef) and Khaled (Suliman), who have been friends since childhood, have decided they want to go on a mission together. Early in the film they are tapped for a mission 24 hours hence, and this preparation period provides some of the film’s most fascinating insights. Each man has a minder, who sticks with him throughout these hours as they return to their families to spend the night and say goodbye without letting anyone in on the secret. Some comedy enters the story as we watch them shoot their "martyr videos": It seems camera malfunctions do not bow to a higher purpose and create the need for retakes. Khaled throws in a personal note to his mother about where to get a lower price on a water-softening product that’s constantly advertised in the movie’s background media. Later we learn that these martyr videos are hot rentals at the local video store, second only to collaborator confessional videos. Said and Nashef, dressed in their "wedding suits," are methodically wired up and receive an inspirational send-off from the cell’s exalted leader. The details are intriguing, but ultimately we learn little more about what’s in their heads than we do from the footage constantly replaying on TV this week of the female suicide bomber whose package failed to blow up during last week’s triple bombings in Amman, Jordan. Paradise Now takes some diversions as each man has his ideology challenged by Suha (Azabal), the daughter of a local martyr who has come to believe that violent confrontation with Israel is wrong, but these episodes seem more perfunctory than truly challenging. Once the bombing plan goes awry and is officially aborted, the film takes on its thriller aspect, as one man returns to base while the other seemingly carries forth. The film continues to twist and turn until the very end, keeping us guessing as to what the would-be martyrs will do. Ultimately, actions speak louder than words, even for men who walk softly but carry big sticks of dynamite.