Friday, March 04, 2005

"Paradise Now": More Evidence of the European Commitment to Combat Terrorism

Last Friday a suicide bomber blew himself up in Tel Aviv killing four Israelis. This was the first suicide attack in Israel since November. Five days before, on February 20, the Berlin Film Festival or “Berlinale” came to a close with the awarding of its coveted prizes. The “Blue Angel” Award for Best European Film went to what was undoubtedly the most talked about film in the competition: Hany Abu-Assad’s “Paradise Now”, a by all accounts – including the director’s – sympathetic portrayal of two young Palestinian men recruited to carry out a suicide attack in Tel Aviv. The description of the film in the Berlinale program notes that on the day of the “operation”, things do not go according to plan. “Separated from each other and left to their own devices,” the program comments, “it’s up to them to face their destiny and stand up for their convictions.” As “destiny” would have it, one detonates, the other does not. It is not clear from the program notes if thereby both “have stood up for their convictions” or only the bomber has done so.

In addition to the “Blue Angel” Award, “Paradise Now” won the “Audience Prize” sponsored by the Berlin newspaper the Morgenpost and intended to capture the sentiments of the public as opposed to the supposedly expert opinions of the jury. The latter, incidentally, was headed by none other than German director Roland Emmerich of “The Day After Tomorrow” fame and included would-be starlet Franka Potente, whose bitterness over a failed attempt at jump-starting a Hollywood career was recently documented on Medienkritik. “Paradise Now” also won a special “Amnesty International Film Prize” sponsored by the German section of AI.

The distinguished members of the jury (jury president Roland Emmerich, far right)

Hany Abu-Assad says that he would like his film to be shown in Israel, since, according to him, in the perception of Israelis “the Palestinians are invisible or they are terrorists”. Just how a film about two Palestinians preparing a suicide attack is supposed to alter this perception is unclear. Or perhaps Hany Abu-Assad does not consider suicide bombers to be terrorists? Well, perhaps not. At a press conference in Berlin with the filmmakers and actors, Hany Abu-Assad acknowledged that a scene of the two would-be bombers, Said and Khaled, dining together the night before the attack is meant to invoke Da Vinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper of Christ. If this is so, is Khaled, the recruited bomber who does not detonate, the equivalent of Judas? “We made the film from their point of view”, Abu-Assad says, and from their point of view “they are going to sacrifice in order to [save]”. Note that there is no consideration of the Israeli victims in these remarks. It is as if they did not exist. Just whom, after all, did Jesus kill “in order to save”? Indeed, during the entire nearly sixty minutes of the Berlinale press conference with Hany Abu-Assad and his collaborators, virtually no mention was made of the Israeli victims of suicide attacks – neither by the filmmakers, nor by the assembled representatives of the media. The one oblique reference involved an academic discussion of why Abu-Assad had chosen to place soldiers on the bus targeted by the assassin – and apparent “Christ figure” – Said: this made it “easier”. (The press conference can be viewed here.)

It is symptomatic of the increasing symbiosis between the Palestinian “cause” and European institutions and personalities that “Paradise Now” should have won an award for specifically the best European film. While Abu-Assad is an Israeli Arab – though one who speaks of “Israelis” as if he was not one himself – “Paradise Now” it is indeed a European production. It was financed by, among others, the German Film Foundation, the Dutch Film Fund, the German “Land” of Nordrhein-Westphalia, and...the German-French public television channel Arte. (Regular readers of Trans-Int will be highly familiar with Arte. For earlier posts on Arte, see here and here.) It also received funding from the Council of Europe program Eurimages. German co-producer Bero Beyer also wrote the screenplay.

For a detailed treatment of “Paradise Now”, see the review “The Suicide Assassin as Mythical Hero” by Tobias Ebbrecht.

Hany Abu-Assad, by the way, explicitly denies that there is any ideological component to the motivations of the suicide bombers. Waving his hands, he referred dismissively at the Berlinale press conference “to the whole discussion like, oh, maybe it’s Islam, maybe it’s I don’t know what.” “For me it’s very clear,” he concluded, “the occupation is the cause...[that] force these people to do it”.

For a rather different view, see Matthias Küntzel’s excellent new essay “Abbas and Hamas”.

And for earlier posts on Trans-Int concerning Europe and the Middle East conflict, see the contents of the "EU and Palestine" file in the sidebar.