Tuesday, June 3, 2014

DIVINE INTERVENTION (2002), Suleiman coming into his own

Sometimes film makers simply loose their sharpness when they are exposed to the possibilities of digital effects.  Six years after his first film, he accrued enough funding and resources here to put together not only a film that feels like it can reach to higher altitudes but also say sharper things as a result.  With a pink balloon, Yasser Arafat is brought to the top of the Dome of the Rock, floating mid-air above his homeland, from which he was exiled at the time.  In a later scene, a Palestinian woman battles with IDF soldiers in a genre-bending spoof of the Wachowski Brothers.  Again I also noticed some cues and stylistic notes from Sergio Leone, including some momentary pan whistle music and some camera angles.  Of course, many critics are apt to compare Sulieman's protagonists to classical mimes like Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati.  I feel less inclined to do so, if not for any reason than the fact that, tonally, these films are completely the opposite of sight-gag comedies.  Rather, I am reminded again and again of the dark pessimism in the opening of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, where Clint Eastwood's likewise mute, grimacing, distant character is an effective witness to a sort of cavalcade of American rejects.  By the third film, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, this communal representation takes on a vaudeville level writers like Stephen King have noted with glee.  If this film is M. HULOT'S HOLY LAND HOLIDAY, it is Tati on video games and MTV as broadcast from the most awful vacation destination on earth, a Dante-level collection of bureaucrats and soldiers making life untenable and miserable for Palestinians.
In CHRONICLE OF A DISAPPEARANCE, there is a very funny scene in the first reel where an older woman talks to the camera about how disgusted she is with another neighbor, gossiping in petty notes about mourning clothes, tradition, modernity, and female promiscuity.  Here, Sulieman's character falls in love with a woman who is so attractive, the IDF road block collapses in awe when she passes by, literally breaking a surveillance tower into pieces.  These clever notes on gender, sex, and race are unbelievably daring hot topics to grapple with.  By highlighting them, the film maker is effectively challenging the Western model of the Oriental Woman as a sort of Other that is mysterious, sexual, dangerous, as noted by Edward Said.   He uses his large budget to create a dream sequence to retrofit the bullet ballet of the MATRIX films with the themes of Palestinian liberation, the hero figure a woman replacement for Keanu Reeves.  This notion of womanhood is radically unique and absolutely foreign to the West; a Western film would insist on subordinating the Heroine to the idealized male protagonist, making him a Hero that comes in to save her from the IDF firing squad.  It is this kind of difference from the West that impresses me so greatly with Sulieman's work, it is able to use subversion and genre tropes to make us laugh at a tragedy.

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