“I prefer this paradise in my head” – Paradise Now (2005)

Written by Yara

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Image source: empireonline.com

What you see is what I hear. What you touch is the taste in my mouth. My doom permeates the lines of your joy. Blowing in the wind is my life you destroy.
The key to better understand and appreciate  Paradise Now is “point of view”.

In the Palestine city of Nablus, the childhood friends Said (Kais Nashif) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) live what seems an ordinary life fixing cars, drinking cold tea and smoking the hookah. On a very ordinary day their entire existence changes when they are recruited for suicide attacks in Tel Aviv. The movie follows the two men while they assess their mission, going back and forth among certainties, doubts, legacy and ultimate desperation.

Right in the beginning it is possible to see that the movie brings a shift in Western point of view regarding the subject of suicide bombing. What is the difference between seeing a shadowy figure involved in stereotypes and a young man laughing with his best friend while dancing to a cheerful song? Although the movie humanizes the suiciders, it does not have the intention of justifying their actions; the script does not try to convince the audience to choose a side, but it explores the reasons that bring these people to the edge. How desperate is someone who firmly believes that dying is the only option? Why would someone do this? Is religion the only reason? The focus is understanding the “whys” rather than the “hows”.

While Said and Khaled dive head first in their convictions, Lubna Azabal’s character, Suha, (Said’s romantic interest) acts as a moral compass calling their attention to the never-ending cycle of violence that these actions trigger. Suha is the daughter of a suicidal hero and yet, she claims she would rather have him by her side than immortalized in a million pieces.

Besides such bold and compelling script, the movie has interesting camera angles, Hany Abu-Assad plays with the foreground and the background constantly shifting the focus. One of the first scenes of the movie shows Said and Khaled discussing with a customer about the bumper of a car; they start a discussion in the background while in the foreground a coffee pot starts its brewing process. The more heated the discussion gets, the more the coffee pot shakes and expels smoke until the irreversible point of ebullition.

Another curious aesthetic aspect of the movie are the contrasts. It’s interesting to notice the opposite cinematography of Nablus, with its concrete buildings, heavy rocks and sharp edges, and the beachy Tel Aviv. The geography and the colours of those regions are beautifully explored. And speaking of ambience, the soundtrack is barely nonexistent; with the exception of two moments where an actual track plays over the images, the scenes are filled with ambient sounds where the audience can hear radios, conversations, cars, crickets…absolute silence. The performances are very consistent and also contrastive; Nashif’s expression is dull, almost bored; however, his eyes are powerful and are constantly trying to send internal messages; gushing from the eyes what the mouth dares not to speak.

In the end, Paradise Now is a fine work that combines powerful filmmaking and an audacious political message. And therefore I end this review with a sentence from my late grandfather: “Everyone does what they think is best for themselves and for the people they love.”

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