Paradise Now (2005)

“I was born in a refugee camp. I was allowed to leave the west Bank only once. I was 6 at the time and needed surgery. Life here is like life imprisonment. The crimes of the occupation are countless. The worst crime of all is to exploit the people’s weaknesses and turn them into collaborators. By doing that, they not only kill the resistance, they also ruin families, ruin their dignity, and ruin an entire people. When my father was executed, I was 10 years old. He was a good person. But he grew weak. For that, I hold the occupation responsible. They must understand that if they recruit collaborators, they must pay the price for it. A life without dignity is worthless. Especially when it reminds you day after day, of humiliation and weakness. And the world watches cowardly, indifferently. If you’re all alone, faced with this oppression… you have to find a way to stop the injustice. They must understand that if there’s no security for us there’ll be none for them either. It’s not about power. Their power doesn’t help them. I tried to deliver this message to them but I couldn’t find another way. Even worse, they’ve convinced the world and themselves that they are the victims. How can that be? How can the occupier be the victim? If they take on the role of oppressor and victim then I have no other choice but to also be a victim and a murderer as well. I don’t know how you’ll decide, but I will not return to the refugee camp.”

‘Paradise Now’, directed by Hany Abu-Assad in 2005, is a Palestinian drama focusing on two friends, Said, played by Kais Nashef, and Khaled, played by Ali Suliman, who are recruited to be suicide bombers. The pair are first shown in their domestic lives, and the film gradually reveals their drive towards taking the ultimate step. As the movie progresses, however, a series of incidents shakes Khaled’s faith in his actions and he tries to prevent Said from carrying out his mission. The final shot is a tense and ambiguous one, the camera slowly closing in on Said’s face and the screen then snapping to white. It’s a clean, revelatory movie, the plight of the two main characters undercuts audience expectations. There is a surprising amount of humour, particularly at the beginning, though not nearly as broad as  Chris Morris’s 2010 black comedy ‘Four Lions’, a film with a similar narrative and theme, but far less nuance and bravery. The achievement of ‘Paradise Now’ extends beyond what appears on screen. Like the French movie ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’, the making of ‘Paradise Now’ was fraught with challenges, including terrorist attacks and kidnapping. The release of the film created controversy as well when it was nominated for an Academy Award as a Palestinian movie, a country without UN representation, which caused Israel to protest. The subject matter: the drive of people to commit terrorism and the moral questions they face, is balanced and well unpacked, but it is the bravery in the making of this film, and the political storm its release created that give the movie real weight.

Would I recommend it? Yes, it’s a courageous and thought provoking film that has touches of lightness and humour within the dark subject matter. Watch in a double bill either with ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’ or ‘Four Lions’.

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