There’s many films on the list that are there for being solidly entertaining, critical darlings, or an otherwise unique experience unlike anything else in cinema. Paradise Now is not one of those films; it has its feet planted squarely in the realm of importance. This is a film that deals with the subject of suicide bombers in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which is probably one of the most touchy subjects art could possibly cover, and unlike Four Lions, this doesn’t play it for laughs; this is straight-up serious.
Said and Khaled are long-time friends living in Nablus, a city in the West Bank disputed territory. After some time of putting themselves forward for recruitment, they are finally selected for a major suicide bombing operation to take place in Tel Aviv the next day. The film recounts what is essentially the last day of their lives, as they are prepped and sent on their way, until things don’t go as planned and the two men are separated, forcing them to improvise their own paths back together and toward their target. Now, normally, I’d go into the technical aspects of the film, but Paradise Now isn’t concerned with being a technical powerhouse; it is solid in every respect, and is so solely to get the job done. I will say, however, that the acting from the two leads, Said in particular, was very good, especially after the two men are physically groomed and prepared for their mission; you can almost feel the weight and significance of their task start to settle on them when they literally suit up for the job. The plot was decent enough, though there was a subplot involving a romantic interest of Said’s that seemed added just to, in the director’s words, provide the two men with a conscience, but I guess I shouldn’t begrudge the film for trying not to be one-note.
This was one of (if not) the first films to ever deal with this topic directly from its homeland, and it is quite amazing that director Hany Abu-Assad manages to not take sides on the conflict at all; he merely presents a fictional account of these two would-be martyrs, and lets his audience form their own opinions. That, I think, was really the only way this film could have been made at all; purely objectively, and many thanks go to Abu-Assad and the filmmakers for doing so. I won’t knock it; this film will probably not be for everyone. But, if you’ve an open mind to it, a film such as this will be especially rewarding. This is a topic that will likely not be going away anytime soon, so to have films such as this that get us to think, and even sympathize, with these men, is truly an achievement worth considering.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10