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Monday, June 05, 2006

Paradise, Hell -- both sides of the same coin!!

Paradise Now (directed by Hany Abu-Assad)

‘The people of one country gave the people of another country the land of the people of the third country’. This is what I remember from my junior high school history class about the definition of appeasement regarding the creation of Israel. Since then, I have understood a lot more about International political games but those words stuck in my mind. Ofcourse, the mentioned definition is outdated now; you won’t find any media outlet using those words. Nope, the world is much more clear cut now – there are good guys and then bad guys. Everything either belongs to the good guys or to the bad guys, and most likely whatever belongs to the bad guys ‘should’ belong to the good guys! Or so we are told. So how does one define the Palestinian situation? Using Newton’s 3rd Law ofcourse -- ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. Now the problems arise when we try to define the ‘action’ and the ‘reaction’. Because the western media has one definition of ‘action’ (naming Palestinian acts) but the Arab world sees only one aggressor – Israel. If one were to condense all the violence and political nonsense back to 1948, we have a solid answer -- the creation of Israel was the big-bang event which upset, shook and shaped events in the Middle East! That event led to a stern ‘reaction’ but Israel countered with such strong ‘action’ that the situation only got worse. And each day only adds to the mess.

Documentaries have been brave enough to expose this situation but when it comes to movies, very few have dared to touch this topic. That was until last year. Two movies, Munich and Paradise Now , covered two very different sides of this good-evil issue. Munich presented one side of the ‘Action’ and Paradise Now presented the response. But these definitions are not that clear cut. The incidents in Munich start out with Israel having to respond to the violent actions triggered by Palestinian terrorists. So in one aspect the movie covers both sides of the coin, but from then on, the movie focusses only on a course of 'action'; violence must be fought with violence! But as the film progresses, Eric Bana's character questions his endless killing and it becomes clear to him that violence is not the answer. But that is something other people don't want to hear and in the end, his character finds himself as a hunted target, treated along the same lines as the people he was killing.

That story took place in the 1970's but things are no better now. The suicide bombing techniques from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have filtered to other countries and as a result, the world is no longer a safe place (was it ever to begin with?). And the volatile global situation make Paradise Now a relevant movie. The story is clear cut – two youngsters (Said, Khaled) hope to help the revolution and earn a trip to Paradise by sacrificing their bodies via a very explosive method. The film shows glimpses of their life and the final moments before the two head out to complete their mission. But things go wrong and Said gets a change of heart. Khaled was confident before but Said’s hesitation and logic rubs off on him. Said on the other hand thinks things clearly and emerges with a strong will, ready to carry out his plan. The final scene focuses on his stern eyes and then the camera fades to white. Equally important to both men’s decision is the wonderful Suha (played by the charming Lubna Azabal who starred in Exils and Viva Laldjérie ) who gives both men valuable advice because she saw her father die for the cause and believes suicide is not the answer. One of the most surprizing things about this movie is its humour. The humour is around the absurdity of the missions being carried out and even the methods used. The people sacrificing themselves are forced to read a script and act out their final message, which will be video-taped and sold to people at special rates in video shops. The camera equipment being used is not high-tech so Khaled is asked to repeat his message again, and again until he gets it right. He is given advice by the people running the mission. In fact, the entire mission comes complete with director, producer, script-writer, camera man and even a driver.

Paradise Now is not a movie with heroes nor is it about villains. It is delicately and cleanly shot and is about people who are forced to believe they have no other choice but the option in front of them – human sacrifice. These people have no airplanes to fight back with so they have to use themselves as a weapon. This is not a new argument though. The Battle of Algiers showed the same reason for the use of suicide missions to fight back. That movie, set back in the 50’s when the Algerians took on the French, is much more relevant today than ever. In fact, both Munich and Paradise Now combined together still can’t achieve the brilliance of The Battle of Algiers . If I had to pair a 4th movie with these three titles, it would be the brilliant documentary Checkpoint . The drama shown in that doc is not scripted and that is what makes the events shown even more horrific! The camera is plunked on the side and the daily humiliation and abuse that Palestinians suffer as they attempt to cross one town to another via the countless checkpoints is captured. Ofcourse, the Israeli soldiers are also pawns in the bizarre political game being played as they are merely told to follow nonsensical orders for perpetually changing checkpoints (Kafka would have been proud). Checkpoint is not about ‘action’ or ‘reaction’ but about the causes which will eventually lead to a ‘reactive’ event! These 4 movies may compliment each other but at the end of the day, will anything change? For the sake of humanity, one hopes so! Until then, we can atleast hope that cinema does not resort to lies and deceptions but is brave enough to take complex and touchy issues head-on.

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