Critics Circle Golden Globe

By Anthony Weiss

Published January 27, 2006, issue of January 27, 2006.
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And the award goes to… Palestine?The Golden Globes caused something of a stir last week when the award for best foreign film went to “Paradise Now,” a feature film about a pair of Palestinian suicide bombers. Israel, in particular, was irked that the film was listed as being from “Palestine.”

“There is no state called Palestine,” David Saranga, Israel’s New York-based consul for media and public Affairs, told the Forward. “There is an entity called the Palestinian Authority.”

However, Hollywood does offer a precedent for the designation. In 2004, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences allowed the film “Divine Intervention,” by Elia Suleiman, as an entry from Palestine.

At the time, this too aroused controversy. The film’s distributors even delayed its release after learning that it would not be eligible for Oscar consideration. According to the academy, the film had two strikes against it. First, Palestine was not a country recognized by the United Nations — though entries from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Puerto Rico had been allowed — and second, there was no entity capable of submitting the film for consideration. And so, a Palestinian motion picture academy was formed, and the film was submitted, but it received no Oscar nominations.

As a prizewinner, “Paradise Now” moves matters beyond technicalities and into the tangled thicket of Israeli-Palestinian politics.

At the awards presentation, director Hany Abu-Assad fired a salvo when he said that the award was “a recognition that the Palestinians deserve their liberty and equality unconditionally.”

But he later reconsidered. “I made my film artistically less important when I said the Palestinians need their liberty,” he told the Guardian. “I turned the film into a kind of political statement, which it is not. The film is an artistic point of view of that political issue. The politicians want to see it as black and white, good and evil, and art wants to see it as a human thing.”

According to Saranga, however, this was precisely where Abu-Assad went wrong. The film “is an attempt to give terror a human face,” he said. “Terror has no human face.” Any attempt to give it one is “incorrect” and “immoral.”

The human faces of the film are Said and Khaled, a pair of friends in the West Bank city of Nablus who are recruited for a suicide bombing mission in Tel Aviv. When the friends read prepared statements for a video camera, the scene is played for mordant comedy: First the camera won’t work; by the time it starts to work, the recruiters have begun to munch on pita bread. The friends are shaved, dressed, and armed for the mission, but when things start going awry they begin to have their doubts.

The making of the picture was similarly seriocomic. Abu-Assad, who co-wrote the film, planned to shoot in Nablus, but that plan had to be aborted. Palestinian gunmen kidnapped the film’s location manager, who was released only after a call to Yasser Arafat. Later an explosion went off a few hundred yards from the set, and six crewmembers packed up and left. Filming eventually finished in the Israeli city of Nazareth.

Ironically, like Elia Suleiman before him, Abu-Assad hails from Nazareth. This means that, technically, his film could have been submitted as the official entry of… Israel.






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