Friday, June 21, 2013

Ziad Doueiri's THE ATTACK--one of the best of the Israel/Palestine films--opens

If The Other Son remains one of the most hopeful of the movies about Israel and "Palestine" (and, yes, I hope those quotes can someday be removed), THE ATTACK -- the new film directed and co-adapted (with Joelle Touma) by Ziad Doueiri from the novel by male writer Yasmina Khadra (for a very interesting short biography, click on his/her link!) -- is one of the least hopeful. Yet it is also one of the best films I have ever seen about this ongoing conflict because it takes the stuff we already know -- or assume we know -- turns it inside out and peppers it with surprise and shock and and then tears right into everything we think we, as decent human beings, hold sacred, forcing us to work it all through and come out the other side into... what? Oh, shit. This is one difficult, terrific movie.

Its leading character, Amin (Ali Suliman, above, of Paradise Now, Lemon Tree and The Time That Remains), is a successful (and now, the evening on which that the film opens, an award-winning) Palestinian doctor, trained and practicing in Israel, which is the home of him and his wife. The next day a terrorist attack occurs, and from here on in, everything changes in ways both predictable and definitely not so. The film calls into question, in a manner so strong and intense that it wipes the floor with most other movies on similar subjects, everything from identity and trust to guilt and justice, then asks us to reassess that person with whom we share our life, bed and love. If all this does not supersede questions of location and territory, well, then, screw you.

Mr. Doueiri, shown at right, has overseen the film in a way that, according to a compatriot who has also read the original novel, clarifies certain points and events without needless telescoping or elision, bringing everything home to roost in a way in which our protagonist (and thus we) are faced with the deepest questions concerning just where our identity lies. (This week we have two films opening that achieve this difficult task, both of them quite well: The Attack and the recently covered Three Worlds.) The fact that Amin is a very good doctor further complicates the situation, so far as his Israeli co-workers and friends are concerned. How they react provides yet another touchstone in our protagonist's journey toward understanding.

The Attack connects interestingly to other recent films set in this location. Our hero, in fact, could be an older version of that young Palestinian student in A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, or even the doctor that one of The Other Sons hopes to become. Yet this film takes us further into the heart and mystery of motive and identity, in a way that is less facile, for it finally confronts the question of what it is like to live among "them," when, until now, we've been one of "us."

This movie certainly does not make Israel look good, but as it was filmed there (and evidently, according to its director, because it does not demonize Israel), it has now been banned in the Arab nations. Idiots all (and I would have to include Israel's current policies in those two words). As much as The Other Son points toward reconciliation, this movie takes us closer to Armageddon. And yet so well made and honest is it that I think you 'll be willing to follow along. On a personal level, the finale is as specific and powerful as you could possibly wish. As usual, art wins out -- but among the powerful, few, if any, see or understand.

The Attack -- from Cohen Media Group and running 102 minutes -- opens today, June 21, in New York City at both the Angelika Film Center and the Beekman Theater. On June 28 it will open in the Los Angeles area at Laemmles' Royal, Town Center 5 and Playhouse 7 -- and elsewhere.

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