Thursday, January 19, 2006

Paradise Now

Now that I'm on the Nickelodeon's Selection Committee, I have this sense of duty toward seeing everything they show, or at least trying to. This means seeing a number of good-to-great films and suffering through a pile of wanna-bes, lesser-thans, coulda-beens and shoulda-never-beens.

The one I saw yesterday afternoon was pretty good:Hany Abu-Assad's  Paradise Now, which just recently won the 2006 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It's a taut political, personal, moral thriller about a pair of Palistinian youths, Said and Khaled, recruited to become suicide bombers.

Friends from childhood who work together at a body shop, the two are a pair of layabouts who lift the occasional goods from the cars of customers, and do only what they must to get by. The news that they are chosen for a mission focuses them, especially Khaled, the more extroverted of the two, who has all the heedless zeal of a true patriot. They promptly make farewell videos for their families, change their appearance by cutting their hair and beards, and prepare to meet the two angels whom, they are assured, will escort them to the next world.

What should be an easy mission -- as easy as these things can be -- becomes suddenly interrupted; real life complications ensue, allowing both rational thought and outside counsel to get in the way. The young men are parted, then rejoined; mixed emotions about fulfilling their assigned role are transferred from one to the other and back again. The hot-blooded Khaled and the self-effacing, gentle Said weigh certain death against the possibility of a life of shame -- Said, whose father was executed for being a collaborator with Israel, knows how shame can shape the life of a family -- as well as the possibility that they can achieve more for the Palistinian cause by staying alive than by giving it all up for a martyrdom.

This is not the kind of wide-ranging political film that gives you a lot to chew on, and it doesn't take you quite as far into the world of the kind of culture that produces suicide bombers as I would prefer -- but it does take you there. (So, briefly, does Syriana, which I will discuss as soon as I understand it.) It's nonetheless highly-charged through most of its 90 minutes, and it ends with a thoughtful and agreeable ambiguity.

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