Friday, October 14, 2005

Paradise Now at the VIFF

Hm. I have a Jewish friend who has considerable sympathy for the state of Israel, as the only democracy in the Middle East, and none at all for suicide bombers or for any Palestinians who would use violence against civilians to achieve their ends. I wish she'd been at this film, Paradise Now, with me -- she's exactly the person I'd like to talk to about it, though I think I can imagine her reaction. The film is an extremely well-crafted consideration of the interlacing political and personal reasons why suicide bombers do what they do; it is also far more sympathetic towards them than I expected it would be. For years, I've agreed with the left that western media is biased in favour of the state of Israel -- insofar as it never calls the occupation an occupation, and treats resistance to the occupation as terrorism -- but films like this one make it quite difficult to continue thinking that; it's particularly shocking that the film is being distributed by Warner Brothers (assuming they actually do distribute it). There are various passages in Paradise Now where suicide bombers justify their actions, both to themselves, to others, and to running video cameras, as they leave a sort of spoken will, explaining why they do what they do, as their only means of striking back against the unfair policies of Israel; though there are also passages that critique suicide bombing and call for a non-violent means of pursuing the Palestinian cause, the movie takes pains not to present bombers as fanatics, and tries to provide "reasonable motive" for them, so that even if you disagree with what they do, you can understand it, even sympathize. That's an interesting project, and the film indubitably succeeds at it.

I'm of two minds about all this, though. It's probably a good thing that there is greater sympathy towards what Palestinians experience during the occupation, since they've been excluded from public awareness and regarded as crazy, savage, bloodthirsty murderers for so long. It's probably not a bad thing that Palestinians have the ability to voice their cause to so wide an audience, either. The film seems a little less than honest, though, in downplaying hatred against Jews, religious extremism, and the attraction to violence that some people feel as part of the overall picture, though; it pretends that anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism don't even exist, but they do. In motivating its characters to do what they do, and ensuring that the audience can sympathize with them, the film comes dangerously close to justifying them. Israel, meanwhile, is pretty much made invisible, save in its role as oppressor. It's guaranteed to ruffle feathers. I guess Warner Brothers is counting on that -- in the post-9/11, Michael-Moored world, such calculated controversies are bound to make money. Perhaps it will stimulate productive debate, as well. I suspect, though, that many audience members will realize just how politically skewed the film is -- just as most people don't seem to think twice about how offensive and immoral films like True Lies are, in their depiction of Arabs as crazed, childish, uncivilized fanatics who kill with no cause or rationale whatsoever, whom even children can outwit (note: looks like there's an interesting book on this sort of phenomenon, called Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People -- see here for a further article).

Anyhow, it was an interesting film to watch -- it would go great on a double bill with Avenge But One of My Two Eyes, reviewed a bit earlier. It made for a good "last film of the festival."

For those interested in these matters, there's an article here on some of the controversy surrounding a book that criticizes Alan Dershowitz and the ways in which the idea of "the new anti-Semitism" is used as an ideological construct to deflect criticism of the state of Israel.

No comments: