Welcome to the Occupation: A Skeptical, Satirical New Comedy, Straight Outta Palestine
Ali, Lorraine, Newsweek
Byline: Lorraine Ali
In Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman's "Divine Intervention," a sexy Arab girl saunters through a military checkpoint like a supermodel down a catwalk, a sweating Santa is chased by knife-wielding kids and an apricot pit tossed carelessly out a car window blows an Israeli tank to smithereens. These bizarre, disturbing comic fantasies pepper the otherwise quietly oppressive life of E.S. (played by Suleiman himself), a Euro-suave Palestinian who lives an excruciating checkpoint away from his love in Ramallah, and way too close to his ailing father in Nazareth. This is one of the few feature films--let alone black comedies--to arise out of Arab Israel, and it goes where nightly news clips can't. It maneuvers through occupation and war (i.e., everyday life) with a cinematographer's eye, a satirist's wit and a secular Palestinian's skepticism, blurring the lines dividing pointed political drama, art-house abstraction and over-the-top sketch comedy.
"Divine Intervention's" impact extends far beyond Israel's disputed borders. It beat out "8 Mile" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" at the European Film Awards in the best non-European picture category and won big at the Cannes Film Festival. Though it won't be released in the United States until next month, it's already sparked great interest--and controversy. Some pro-Israeli groups want to have the film banned, and it's not eligible for a best- foreign-film Oscar because the motion- picture Academy does not recognize Palestine as a nation. Meanwhile its U.S. distributor, Avatar, decided to hold the film's release until 2003 so it would have time to protest the rules.
Suleiman, 42, is used to opposition by now. His first feature film, "Chronicle of a Disappearance," was booed at the Tunis film festival; its closing image showed the raising of an Israeli flag. "I was accused of being a collaborator, a Zionist, the usual nonsense," says Suleiman from his home in Paris. "Chronicle" was shunned by Arab critics; in Israel, it topped best-of lists. Now, Suleiman says, no Israeli exhibitor wants to show "Divine Intervention." He laughs. "That's the irony I always live under. …