Posted on 3/18/13 12:36 PM
Matters of Life and Death
I'm not sure that "suicide bombing" is "dying like a free man." I think rather that it's an act of desperation, despair, or madness, one of the three. Possibly some combination thereof. I think there is a certain amount of freedom to be gained by choosing your own manner of death, but I think that forcing others to take it with you negates some of that. Not all, but enough. A noble death is one thing, but killing others along with you denies you the status of being a martyr, so far as I'm concerned. I understand the political philosophy behind it, but I think it's wrong, and I think bombing is in general a poor method of persuasion. Bombs don't care about their targets, and it's impossible to guarantee that no innocents will die. Unfortunately, the premise seems to be that there is no such thing as innocents, which is untrue and unfair. Even the two prospective bombers here were once innocents themselves.
Khaled (Ali Suliman) and Said (Kaid Nashif) are young Palestinians. They work as car repairmen, though not very well. Said meets Suha (Lubna Azabal), a young woman born in Morocco and considerably better traveled than anyone he's known before. She is working for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. However, Khaled and Said think they are, too; they are planning to be suicide bombers in Tel Aviv. Said's father worked for the Israelis and was killed for it. Said believes he must do something to counteract his father's action. He and Khaled dress up in suits, cut their hair, and are told to claim that they are crossing the border to go to a wedding. However, at the crossing, they are separated. The bombing is delayed, and both men spend the rest of the film, essentially, trying to decide if the bombing is right. Suha insists to both men separately that there is another way, that suicide bombings don't help the Palestinian people, but they hear other voices which suggest they are.
Suha, I think, is intended to be the voice of reason in the whole thing. Or at least the voice of the outside world. She is ethnically Palestinian, but she is not Palestinian at heart in the same way as the men. She has lived in the world beyond Palestine and Israel, and she knows that there are more perspectives on the conflict than just the one the men are trapped in and the one they have imposed on all Israelis. She has also seen how methods other than bombings have helped other oppressed peoples gain further freedoms. However, she is also not so intimately involved as the men making the decisions about life and death. It's not as personal to her; she is contemplating just leaving again rather than stay in the country and deal with its issues. The men do not have that opportunity; getting out of Palestine can be rather difficult, especially in the years since 9/11. Though I understand that getting in isn't exactly easy, either.
Of course, the issue of suicide bombing is also considerably more complicated than this movie makes it. Not all suicide bombers are confused young men trying to do the best for their country. There is, in the film, an amusing sequence wherein they're staging a video to be released after the bombing, only the camera doesn't work. There's little doubt that a lot of the "revolutionary fervor" shown on such videos is faked, but no one here seems to have much. Everyone we see is pretty well businesslike about it. I'm not saying I doubt their patriotism. I'm saying that the characters in this movie seem to be making suicide bombing every bit as much of a business as the video rental guy who both rents and sells the tapes. I'm sure this is true as often as not, but there are also people in it for other reasons that never appear. We see neither the impassioned ones nor the mentally ill ones, and there's doubtless plenty of both. What we see are businesslike and confused, and there are other options.
This was the first Palestinian film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. It engendered considerable controversy over how it would be presented. There was also protest because the film supposedly glorified suicide bombing, which I do not believe to be true. After all, it never does show that it accomplishes anything. The filmmaking was as filled with complications as the story--Yasser Arafat's office had to get the film's location manager released after he was kidnapped. Members of the crew quit after a car near the set was attacked by Israeli helicopters one day. Israel may be one of the most dangerous countries to live in that isn't really considered an active warzone. That appears to be the barest technicality. I've watched a lot of films about the conflict made in the region, and the theme I'm picking up on is that almost everyone wants it over. Yes, the Palestinians want equality, but I don't think most of them want it enough to put up with much of what goes on, supposedly in their name.