Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Elia Suleiman, Manal Khader, George Ibrahim, Amer Daher, Jamel Daher
Written by: Elia Suleiman
Directed by: Elia Suleiman
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Arabic, Hebrew, with English subtitles
Running Time: 92
Date: 03/18/2013
IMDB

Divine Intervention (2003)

2 Stars (out of 4)

'Divine' Decline

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Film fans can do themselves a service by keeping their fingers on the pulse of France and New York, who very often get to see films before we do. If the French and New York critics agree on something, it's worth looking for. One such recent film that received great accolades from both groups is Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention. And for the first half-hour or so, the film shines with its Jacques Tati-like deadpan humor and its distant, but realistic look at the funny foibles of human beings. We laugh as one man repeatedly throws his garbage bags into his neighbor's garden, an irate old man collects empty bottles and pops a young boy's soccer ball, another man insults everyone on the street as he drives by, and two old men sit silently in chairs and watch it all. The film's first few minutes alone draws us in with shocking images of Santa Claus being chased through the woods by a gang of unruly youths. The lovely timing and restraint in these scenes are just about cause for celebration. But it all ends too soon.

The movie's "plot" eventually kicks in, with a man (Suleiman) and a woman (Manal Khader) who live on opposite sides of an Israeli checkpoint outside of Jerusalem. They're having an affair and meet occasionally near the checkpoint. The woman uses her considerable good looks to confound the soldiers and get across. It's not clear who lives in what city or who these people really are because the film contains barely any dialogue. That hardly matters in Tati's quiet physical, comedies, but here it becomes oppressive as Suleiman relies on pro-Palestinian propaganda. Astonishingly, the central image is one of Suleiman holding a red balloon with Yasser Arafat's image on it. When he lets it go, it flies into Jerusalem and comes to rest at the top of a temple. In another scene, the woman turns ninja and kicks five Israeli soldiers' behinds. Because of the dry way they're shown, we have no idea how seriously to take these scenes.

Many critics have dismissed the film's messages and concentrated on its artistry, which is lovely in some places, and maddening and confusing in others. Clearly influenced by Tati, Suleiman does not have the discipline -- or the abandon -- to come even close to his level; no matter what one thought of Tati's films, they weren't complicated or preachy. The ecstasy in the first part of the film completely evaporates, leaving only an empty bitterness.