There has been much praise for Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention, including the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes last year. But it’s hard to say whether the Palestinian film is being honored for its artistic merit or for its unlikely existence in a world where the Palestinian people are mostly characterized as a bunch of terrorists. The thought would never cross any American’s mind that there might be something as civilized as filmmaking happening in the West Bank.
Divine Intervention is far more successful at capturing the feeling of life than actually depicting it in an entertaining way. It’s a yawner, with very little dialogue or connective tissue between scenes and characters. And it’s 35 minutes before something that approaches proper storytelling arrives with the appearance of a beautiful woman in a slick pair of shades. Her presence is all the more welcome because she’s the film’s first sign of color and vivacity, and as she strides past a military checkpoint on the road from Ramallah to Nazareth, the post’s wooden eagle’s nest crumbles at her feet.
Suleiman plays main character E.S. who is having an affair with the woman; they must meet outside this checkpoint, because although he is from Nazareth and can enter the West Bank freely, she is not welcome on the other side of the border. Their meetings and the film at large have an absurd comic poignancy to them, a “look at how ridiculous this all is” laugh, but it’s not readily apparent until after the credits roll. This is one of those films that get better as you mull it over, if you can get through it.
One fantasy sequence seems to mock the Israelis (and, one hopes, the Palestinians as well — no fair playing favorites) and puts a dent in the hard shell containing the black comedy promised in the film’s literature. Five soldiers take target practice as if they’re a military boy band, tumbling about in unison. When the dust clears, it turns out they’ve been shooting at targets painted like burka-clad women, one of whom comes to life. She’s actually the woman from earlier, now dressed like a holy ninja and blessed with skills that are equal parts Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She stops bullets in midair; one camera shot actually shows her hanging on an invisible cross with a crown of bullet thorns circling her head.
It’s a great shot, although what it portends is a mystery. Is this Suleiman’s statement on Palestinian-Israeli tensions and a prediction of who will emerge unscathed? His character doesn’t say a word throughout the film, but this sequence just might be his voice.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W. of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.