Thursday, August 15, 2013

Movie Review: The Attack

The Attack
Directed by:  Ziad Doueiri.
Written by: Ziad Doueiri & Joelle Touma based on the novel by Yasmina Khadra.
Starring: Ali Suliman (Amin Jaafari), Evgenia Dodena (Kim), Reymond Amsalem (Siham Jaafari), Dvir Benedek (Raveed), Uri Gavriel (Captain Moshe), Ruba Salameh (Faten), Karim Saleh (Adel), Ramzi Makdessi (Priest).

The Attack is a movie that looks at the very complex issue of Israel-Palestinian violence, and finds that there really is no right side or wrong – no guys and bad guys – just violence all the way around that leaves victims in their wake. Some have already accused the film of being an “apology for suicide bombers” – but I think that is a rather simplistic view of what the movie actually does. It does not apologize or justify suicide bombers – but it does sympathize with the reasons why some feel the need to do such a thing, but it never endorses the actions that leaves innocent people dead. It is simply saying that the issue is not as simplistic as some would like it to be. To me, that makes The Attack into a fascinating movie. Others will be offended – but perhaps it will cause some people to rethink at least some of their views on the conflict.

The movie stars Ali Suliman as Amin Jaafari, a Palestinian living in Israel and making a good living as surgeon at a large hospital. He has just been given a prestigious award – the first Arab ever to win it. He is a non-practicing Muslim, and his wife is a Christian. They live a secular, secure seemingly happy life. Amin has grown complacent in his security – and that’s the way he likes it.

He has shaken out of that complacency when a suicide bomb explodes. He spends hours trying to help the victims, before heading home. His wife is out of town, so he has a drink and goes to bed. He is woken up in the middle of the night by a phone call from his friend Raveed (Dvir Benedek) – a police officer – who tells him he needs to get the hospital right away. He thinks it’s for a patient – but instead he is asked to identify the body of his wife Siham (Reymond Amsalem) – who not only was killed in the suicide bombing, but was in fact the bomber. Amin is shocked – he cannot and will not believe his wife would do such a horrible thing. He is interrogated for days on end, but he cannot tell the police anything – because he does not know anything. Eventually he is released, but now he no longer feels secure in his life. When it becomes clear, even to him, that his wife did in fact commit the bombing, he heads to his small, Palestinian home town in search of answers. Someone must have brainwashed his wife – and he’s going to find out who.

The majority of the movie takes place in this small Palestinian town – where Amin finds that his wife is seen as a hero – a martyr for the cause – which angers him even more. But his journey, which begins in anger, ends up shocking him out of his complacency. He hasn’t returned to his town in more than a decade, and it upsets him that everyone – including some members of his own family – eye him with suspicion. He thought he had a home in Israel, but after the bombing, it has become clear that they don’t really want him there anymore. And when he returns home, he finds they don’t really want him there either. They are convinced he is working with the Shin Bet – the organization that was seen recently in the excellent documentary The Gatekeepers. Try as he might, he is not able to get the answers he so desperately desires. But he also sees what the day-to-day lives of the Palestinian people is really like – the oppression and violence they live with every day. While he never gets to the point where he condones what his wife did, he does begin to understand the sense of futility and hopelessness that lead her to do it.

The movie takes a few too many twists in its third act. The film is structured like a thriller or a detective story, and it is filled with tense moments. By the time Amin finally gets at least some of the answers he is seeking – he will never get all of them, something made clear when he finally watches the videotape his wife made before she died – the film has probably twisted at least one too many times. A few of the conversations late in the film border of being preachy – but as with the rest of the movie, they are anchored by Suliman’s excellent performance. Even if the plot gets a little far-fetched at times, he keeps things real with his sensitive, subtle, often quiet yet commanding performance. He is the film’s greatest asset.

The film’s final scenes are deliberately meant to make the audience question Amin and the decision he ends up making. Is it the right decision, or the wrong one? Is he protecting a suicide bomber and their network, or does simply not want to contribute to any more deaths? But by doing nothing, is he not contributing to more deaths anyway? At the end of the film, Amin is in an impossible moral position. Some will see what he does as wrong – in strictly black and white terms, they may well agree with the dressing down one of his colleagues gives him. But as with the rest of the movie, seeing things that way would be far too simple.

The film was co-written and directed by Ziad Doueiri, and based on the bestselling novel by Yasmina Khadra. The film has been banned in Doueiri’s native country of Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world – because apparently the Arab league found its portrayal of the Israeli characters too humanizing. The film was too balanced in their view – and since it put the oppressor and the oppressed on the same level, it was actually unfair to Arabs. This is bullshit, of course. The movie presents the issues surrounding Israel and Palestine in a complex way – but mainly leaves them in the background. This is a personal story first, with large reaching political ramifications. You may disagree with The Attack – or think that it takes side too much – but it is a film that deserves to be seen and discussed. Any political film has to work as a film first, and politics second – and that is what The Attack does.

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