The two would-be suicide bombers in 'Paradise now' have seemingly ordinary lives; they work as car repairmen, live with their parents, and one of them is even smitten by the affections of a female who visits their workshop. What is however most astonishing is the fact that they are never shown habitually practicing their religion, even when others around them clearly do, despite being staunch believers themselves in the aftermath of their supposed martyrdom. That last fact is important to understand and appreciate the point of view from which the film has been made and presented. Said and Khaled willfully nominate themselves as candidates to carry out the suicide attacks, a means of revenge for a bombing that kills two Palestinians earlier in the film, not necessarily because they feel they can spiritually gain a higher stature in the next world or benefit their families directly, but because they honestly feel they can better the situation of their people by their actions.
The scenes that buildup to their preparation for the attacks could be scenes from any movie about the lives of people. We spend time with these men, meet their families, listen to them articulately speak about their lives and even when we know what they are about to do is wrong, believe in them enough by the time they are ready to even want them to be triumphant in their cause, which is peppered with obstacles.
The film never feels like a political statement or a commentary about the situation in the Middle East and the absence of this element provides it with the impetus to succeed as a sort of thriller on its own terms. The 'will they, won't they' element is especially strong towards the last act when the film becomes taut and riveting in its momentum. 'Paradise now' also has the advantage of being handsomely shot on location in Nablus, Tel Aviv and other real territories and both the director and writer deserve recognition for being bold enough to not shy away from lacing many scenes with a world weary irony, such as when Said and Khaled record their final messages for their family, only to find out that the tapes never worked. The character of Said in particular is well crafted and given a deeper purpose for making his choices, a fact made apparent only much later in the film and which becomes a testament to the rich scriptwriting.
Relevant, well made and highly watch-able, this remains one of the best selections from the Dubai international film festival. Highly recommended. - Faizan Rashid