And we thought PBS films were bad. David’s Medienkritik reports the German government has subsidized a sympathetic film about Palestinian suicide bombers."Paradise Now" tells the story of two Palestinian men, Said and Khaled, who are selected as the latest suicide bombers, and debate which way is best to defeat Israeli occupiers. This is supposed to help us by "humanizing" the assassins. Oh, but lucky us! It’s coming to America, to the film festival circuit. It’s been picked up by Warner Independent Pictures. And it's won an Amnesty International award.
The filmmaker, Hany Abu-Assad, told a German website he wouldn’t condemn suicide bombers: "The suicide attacks are a consequence of oppression, which first has to stop...I am against killing people, and I want that to stop. But I do not condemn the suicide attackers. For me, it is a very human reaction to an extreme situation." In their marketing materials, Warner Independent is trying to make "clear that the film is one that carries a message of peace," says spokeswoman Laura Kim. "We are working with many organizations to help get the word out that the film is one to begin a dialogue, to ask questions."
Abu-Assad is telling the American press a different tale than he told the Germans. "I'm a filmmaker," he told Newsday. "I have nothing to do with selling the politics of anyone else. But by humanizing you are showing the conflict inside them. You sell them as a human being. And when you are humanizing them, you can fight them better. And understand the conflict better." If there's any doubt American liberals will celebrate the film, see this reaction from a New York festival goer when one of the bombers goes AWOL in the movie:
A frantic Khaled insists that his friend would never betray the cause, and begs to be allowed to find him. Meanwhile, Said has re-crossed the border on his own and is waiting at a bus stop. Knowing that the commitment of a character we care about is being doubted, our instant, emotional reaction is to root for Said to explode his bomb, thus proving his loyalty. The impulse had barely passed through me when I realized with horror what I was thinking, and my brain desperately tried to rein in my emotions. I looked around guiltily, wondering if anyone could detect the brief crack in my fundamental disapproval of murder as a political tool. My next thought, though, was the realization that everyone around me had felt it, too.
That brief moment of identification is what makes Paradise Now so important. Abu-Assad doesn’t aim to convince anyone that suicide bombers are right - and his film will never have that effect, despite what its critics are bound to say. All Paradise Now aims to do is create characters in whom we believe; to give humanity to the mysterious figures that we see on CNN. By doing that effectively, Abu-Assad forces us to question our assumptions about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Even if the reconsideration is internal and private, it gives added depth to our understanding of the complexities of life in the Middle East. Any film that can do that deserves our deepest respect.
No, it deserves our deepest revulsion. Hollywood may be on the verge now of a wave of films sympathizing or rationalizing for terrorists. Defenders of the war on terror should be ready to respond.