Paradise Now, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, follows two Palestinian suicide bombers during their final days. It won the award for best foreign film at this year’s Golden Globes. In his acceptance speech, Hany said that he hoped the prize would bring “a recognition that the Palestinians deserve their liberty and equality unconditionally”.
Hany was born in Palestine, and he returned there to make his film, meeting with the families of suicide bombers and those serving prison sentences for attempted bombings.
“When I first thought about making a film on this subject, I realised that I didn’t know about these people,” said Hany. “I didn’t know their stories, their history or their motivation.
“I wanted to understand, because I think that with understanding things become less frightening. It is like shining a light—when it is dark you are afraid, but when it is light, you can see things and you become less afraid.
“When you are ignorant of things then you are very afraid of them. When you understand them you can handle it better.”
Shooting a film in Palestine is a risky business—something that Hany describes as an “act of resistance”. He said, “We could have lost our lives. The Israeli occupation will never respect the human rights or civil rights of the people.
“They can kill you for any reason, or they can force you into a dangerous situation. We were shooting our movie in a war zone, but we felt we had to do it.
“Sometimes showing your resistance is a relief. You don’t want to feel cowed. So we said OK, you use the ugly side of civilisation—the helicopters, the checkpoints, the secret service—in order to oppress us.
“And we’ll use the beautiful side—art, knowledge and humanity—in order to protest.”
As well as telling the story of the suicide bombers depicted in the film, Hany wanted to capture the realities of everyday life for Palestinians under occupation.
And he wanted to show that Palestinians are far from a homogenous group. “I was born in Palestine. My family and many of my friends still live there. People there are not of one voice. They are not one person.
“There have been all sorts of different reactions to the film. Some hate it and some love it. Some see it as a political movie and others will appreciate it as a piece of art.
“We all have different experiences in life and so we all react differently to art. This is why people create art—to get a reaction. It’s the right of the people to make their own judgement. That’s no different in Palestine to how it is on the other side of the world.”
Despite the controversial subject matter, Paradise Now has had a surprisingly warm reception from many reviewers. It was also nominated for an Oscar—a significant decision by an organisation that has traditionally refused to recognise Palestine as a nation.
“I was surprised at first by the good reaction that the film received in the US,” Hany said. “But I think that when you see a film that opens discussion, that makes you think, then you appreciate it. And this is a film that does that. It makes people talk to each other.”
Hany has remained steadfast in his opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
“I think as long as Israel is controlling the borders, Palestinians cannot have a big role in solving the problems,” he said. “If you want to resolve this conflict peacefully then there must be equality between the two sides.
“As long as the state of Israel controls everything—and the Palestinians are forced to wait for what Israel is willing to give—we will have no peaceful solution.”
He also challenges the response from mainstream politicians and commentators in the West to the recent victory of the radical Islamic group Hamas in elections to the Palestinian authority. “I don’t think that the election of Hamas is the problem,” said Hany. “The problem is the occupation, the injustice, this situation where one side dominates the other.
“We have to concentrate on this issue. As long as this situation continues, and the West is willing to hear the arguments put by Israel because it is in their interests to do so, nothing will change.
“Extremism will continue, and will grow. I don’t think that Hamas is that extreme, not in comparison to the [right wing Israeli] Likud Party for example.
“Hamas doesn’t renounce violence—but does the Israeli state renounce violence? No, they are using violence every day, killing people every day.”
The kind of terrorism depicted in Paradise Now must be seen in the wider context of the far greater terrorism unleashed by George Bush, Tony Blair and their Israeli ally, he adds.
“The politics of Bush and Blair are creating terror, not fighting it. They are both war criminals.
“If there is any justice in the world these people will be taken to a court and punished for creating the war in Iraq—an illegal war.
“It’s amazing what they did. It’s a criminal act, even breaking their own laws. They are not protecting anyone from terror—they are just creating more.”
Review: A fresh look at Palestinian life
Said and Khaled are two Palestinians living in the Palestinian town of Nablus. They are childhood friends and both mechanics in a garage cum car dump.
Their lives change when a member of an unnamed Palestinian resistance group contacts them.
They are told that they have been chosen as the future martyrs for a long planned attack on the Israeli capital, Tel Aviv.
Paradise Now constrasts with the usual depiction of Palestinian suicide bombers—they are shown here as human beings.
We see Said and Khaled listening to a tape of Tuvan throat-singers, while Khaled teases Said about his encounter with Suha, the daughter of a famous martyr, who had just returned after spending most of her life in France and Morocco.
The use of interviews with failed suicide bombers and relatives of suicide bombers shape the film’s main characters.
The third of these, Suha, opposes the tactic of suicide bombing, highlighting a debate within Palestinian society, where past events haunt the actions of young people.
The oppression of the Palestinians is shown through its obvious manifestations, for example the all pervasive roadblocks, but also by contrasting the poverty of the Palestinian town of Nablus with Tel Aviv’s gigantic advertising posters and luxurious beach resorts.
The film also contains comic situations. After finishing his martyr’s video speech, Khaled is told to do it again—the camera wasn’t working. So he does it again while the others chew on some bread.
This is an important film that has already succeeded where Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention failed—winning recognition of Palestine as the “country of origin” from the US Academy Awards and from film distributors.
Paradise Now is currently showing in cinemas