Saturday, August 12, 2006

Paradise Now (2005)

Paradise NowNominated for the Academy Award for 'Best Foreign Film', Paradise Now is a powerful, moving drama that tells the story of two lifelong Palestinian friends, selected for martyrdom in action agaist Israel.

It sounds like the recipe for a tedious, political propoganda piece for Palestinian Liberation, right? Fortunately, it's a much more sophisticated offering than that, focussing on the human side of the two protagonists and the very real dilemma's they face. Ultimately it's a film that doesn't attempt to provide answers, or show one side as better than the other, but shows the very real human catastrophe that is being caused by the never-ending Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

Said and Kaled, living a lifeless existence in the occupied territories, are selected to be walking time bombs, used in a suicide mission in Tel Aviv. Initially resolute in their beliefs, an incident which causes a two day delay in their planned attack, causes them to question what they're doing, and ultimately the 'hook' to the movie is taking the journey with the characters to see if they will follow through on their initial promises or not.

Director Hany Abu-Assad tells his tale well, with twists and turns along the way that keep you gripped throughout. The cinematography is stunning, and the oppressive heat and overall meaninglessness of life are indelibly stamped throughout. But there's gentle humour too, with a particularly memorable scene featuring one of the would-be suicide bombers interrupting his filmed fervently anti-Israeli martyr's farewell speech to the authorities and his family, to tell his mother that she should go to a different store from her usual one because he's forgotten to tell her that they sell water filters cheaper than the store she usually buys her goods from. It's these subtle, human touches in the midst of the misery and ruthlessly planned atrocities that make you identify with the central characters and ultimately, the unsolvable dilemma they find themselves having to face.

The transfer to DVD is flawless, but I've marked it down a couple of points because of the pricing, even at discount rate, and the complete paucity of any extra's. There is a trailer and that's it. Given the number of film awards, and Q&A sessions there must have been, it's disgraceful that there's not a sniff of anything extra here - no commentary or 'Making of' featurette that may have shed light on the motivations and history of the film-making. The sleeve notes enticingly tell us that the crew faced real-life missile attacks, exploding land mines and the kidnapping of a crew member, so there are stories to be told - but not on this DVD it seems. It's also annoying, given the English title and packaging, to find one has to navigate the menu system to turn on English subtitles if one wants to actually follow this Arabic language film when the 'Play' button is hit.

Paradise Now is a thought-provoking, intelligent film on a subject that's already received much exposure. It's highly recommended - I just wish it had been presented in a much stronger DVD package than this rather over-priced 'vanilla' one.

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