A review of “Paradise Now” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. In Arabic with English subtitles

 

 

Two young Palestinians embark on a suicidal martyr mission in this stark and ominous international drama.

Khaled (Ali Suliman) and Said (Kais Nashef) are best friends and menial labor workers living in the West Bank city of Nablus with little hope of a bright future. They are proud to be chosen for a Tel Aviv suicide strike because it is God’s will.

Their last night is spent at their respective homes attempting to deal with the ordinary but brimming with a burning desire for justice and retaliation for thirty-plus years of Israeli occupation.

It’s hard not to judge. Khaled and Said are promised lifelong protection for their families and a pair of angels to pick them up on the other side. Their fervent beliefs are nothing short of infuriating given that innocents will be murdered by their ostensibly selfless act.

On the appointed day Khaled and Said are led to a drop-off point to meet a driver who will transport them to Tel Aviv for their appointment with destiny. The plan goes south when the pair is intercepted at the Israeli border and separated from their superiors and each other.

Reservation creeps in. The secret is leaked and rational minds beg them to reconsider their drastic actions. Will they or won’t they execute their homicidal plea for integrity?

This is the second time in weeks that I’ve watched a protagonist strap on a dynamite vest in the name of freedom. “The War Within” dealt a similar blow to fate and the zealous call to “heroic courage”. “Paradise” skews in the direction of doubt as Khaled balks and Said feels a furious resolution creeping into his psychological periphery.

The bitterness behind the occupation that defines this resistance is the foundation of this world-weary drama, reflected in Nashef’s expressive eyes. The ominous implications lend their own energy when the pacing flags and tension wanes.  Simple, reflective, and uncomfortably relevant.