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Film playing in Israel gives point of view of Palestinian suicide bombers

Some moviegoers say that 'Paradise Now' avoids melodrama and treats a complex problem with fairness.

November 16, 2005|Laurie Copans | Associated Press

TEL AVIV — A movie about Palestinian suicide bombers had Tel Aviv viewers on the edge of their seats -- and some even found themselves empathizing with the two West Bank mechanics trying to attack their city.

The award-winning "Paradise Now," which explores the motives of bombers and has been screened in other countries, is now in limited release in Israel, a country struck by 122 bombings that killed hundreds of people in the last five years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Viewer turnout has been modest at three showings a day at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, the city's main art house, and no commercial distributor has been found. Abroad, the movie has made $2 million in sales. (The film opened in Southern California Oct. 28 and continues to play in limited release.)

"Paradise Now" has stirred some controversy in Israel, with one TV morning show matching up the two lead actors, Israeli Arabs Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman, with a bereaved father who lost his teenage son in a bus bombing two years ago and said bombers must not be portrayed in a sympathetic light.

Some of those at a recent Tel Aviv showing praised director Hany Abu-Assad -- an Arab born in Israel who lives in Holland -- for avoiding melodrama and for creating complex characters.

"You don't identify with one side more than another," said Esther Wiener, 50. "I understood the other [Palestinian] side. I saw human beings who are caught up in this quagmire. There is no right side and no wrong side."

The film tells the story of two friends, Said (Nashef) and Khaled (Suliman), who are dispatched to carry out a double suicide bombing and accept it as their fate. They shave their beards to blend into Israeli crowds more easily, pray and prepare farewell videos.

Most of the movie was shot in the West Bank city of Nablus, a militant stronghold from which many bombers were dispatched.

The conflict served as a constant backdrop -- houses demolished in Israeli army operations, the sound of airstrikes against Palestinian militants and large crowds waiting at roadblocks.

Nashef said that at one point, Palestinian gunmen who feared militants would be portrayed in an unsympathetic fashion abducted the cameraman. Longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat won his release.

Israeli audiences have responded to the movie with a range of emotions.

In the Tel Aviv showing, there were some snickers when a gun-toting Khaled interrupted the filming of his farewell video to tell his mother where to buy the cheapest filtered water.

During a one-time showing at a Haifa art house several weeks ago, some viewers were on the edges of their seats during a scene showing the two protagonists about to be caught by Israeli soldiers as they try to sneak through a security fence.

"There was a lot of tension in the theater during this scene," Nashef said. "I felt that the entire theater was with us, that they didn't want us to get caught. Then I felt that we had conveyed our message ... and it was a very strange feeling."

Alon Garbuz, director of the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, said the movie is important for Israeli audiences.

"This doesn't legitimize the bombers," Garbuz said. "But you can understand them."

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