It seems to me that a film which is banned in the area it is about is one that demands to be watched. The sin that Ziad Doueiri’s (West Beirut, Lila Says) film commits is that it was filmed in Israel making it banned in all Arab countries. My interest was piqued.
Making a film about suicide bombings in the Israeli-Palestinian context is a brave move. I had my doubts about how the very delicate subject would be presented. Doueiri does such a good job that after watching it I felt emotionally wrecked. Like I had been run over by a truck. The subject, emotions and morality involved in the film are so complex yet so deftly handled in an original way that they don’t cloud the film. I mean, they do, but in a way that makes you feel, think, react then want to discuss it. Are these not the ultimate goals of every film made?
Doueiri does not ease into things. He starts his film off pretty much with the attack and then works from there. Arab Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman – Paradise Now, Body of Lies) is a successful emergency room physician working in a large Tel Aviv hospital. He is married to a woman he loves named Shiham (Reymond Amsalem – Rendition, Lebanon). Successful and seemingly completely accepted and integrated into Israeli society, Amin seems to have everything he wants. Except the child he has asked Shiham for.
Amin is to receive a prestigious medical award at a ceremony. He is the first Arab to have ever gotten it. He makes a small speech about being an Arab working in a Jewish environment. We notice that his wife, Shiham, is not at the ceremony. Nor is she at home when arrives later that evening. Amin goes to bed.
At 3:20 a.m. Amin’s home phone rings. It is his boss Raveed (Dvir Benedek – Big Bad Wolves) and he wants him to come into work, but tells him not to drive fast. Once there Raveed is with Captain Moshe (Uri Gavriel – The Dark Knight Rises, The Band’s Visit). Raveed gently asks him where Shiham is. Amin tells him that she is with her grandfather in Nazareth. With the questions and Moshe being there Amin begins to wonder what is going on. Raveed tells him they have a female body that they want him to identify as they believe it to be Shiham. He cannot believe it when it turns out that it is his wife’s body. Or at least half of it.
Next, we are in an interrogation room and Captain Moshe is asking Amin questions about Shiham. He is saying that her injuries are consistent with a suicide bomber’s and that they believe that she was responsible for the attack that killed 17 Israelis and maimed 8. Amin refuses to believe it and tells the authorities that his wife would have neither reason nor the ability to do this.
The suspense of it all is taken out of it as shortly after being released from police custody Amin gets a letter Shiham wrote before her death admitting to the suicide bombing. She asks him not to hate her.
Amin is crushed. He cannot believe the woman he loved and was married to for 15 years could hide something of this magnitude from him. He is paralyzed and hides away in a hotel. There he is located by a female co-worker named Kim (Evgenia Dodena – first film). After spending some time at her house Amin decides he needs to know the truth about Shiham and is going to Nablus, the West Bank area that he grew up in and his sister and her family still live in, to get some answers.
Both sides of the conflict have complained about this film. To me that means that a fairly unbiased view of the issue has been presented. For the most part (as much as is possible, anyways) Ziad Doueiri has made the film about the humans involved rather than the politics. This is as much about a husband and wife and their relationship as it is about suicide bombings and the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We all want so very desperately to believe that we know everything about the person we are married to and what they are capable of, but time and time again we are shown that to believe that is folly.
In an understated way Lebanese director Doueiri has managed to make a film in which neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are the bad guys. It is the ignorance that is the problem on both sides. That ignorance leads to fear which leads to violence and terrorism by both sides. An ongoing cycle which seems to have no solution and therefor no end in sight. The message of the film is made even stronger by it not taking sides.
We are all human and to err is human. Amin is a man who learned that lesson the hard way. Now learning what he has about his wife has caused him to question what he believes in and the life he is living. Is it wrong to have turned his back on his roots and to have assimilated as much as he could as an Israeli Arab? Are the Jews in his life truly friends or just trying to demonstrate their tolerance? Hatred and suspicion seem to permeate the lives of those on either side. Life is not as he thought it to be. Human relations and the contents of a human’s “heart” are two very complex things that are never truly revealed. This is a universal truth, but doubly so in areas of conflict.