Monday, July 8, 2013

Taut, nuanced peephole into Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The Attack (Ziad Doueiri), opening Friday at the Uptown Palladium 12 in Birmingham, is a respectably nuanced treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict told through two principal characters: an Israeli-assimilated Arab, and his wife, a Palestinian who surreptitiously remains married to the cause. Amin (Ali Suliman) is a highly successful Tel Aviv surgeon. The film opens with him winning the country’s top medical prize, a slightly self-conscious example of the Israeli tolerance extended to its Arab citizens. Strangely, his wife Siham (Reymonde Amsellem) has not joined him. But she calls his cell phone just as he’s about to accept the award and he tells her he cannot speak. The next day, over lunch, on the hospital balcony, Amin and his colleagues hear a bomb go off. Dozens of people – mainly children – are rushed to his hospital. They’re the victims of a suicide bombing. The Shabak (Israeli security) immediately suspects his wife, whom Amin had seen off on a bus to the Palestinian territories to visit her family the day before. Of course he doesn’t believe them and thinks he’s being stereotyped and scapegoated. His interrogator condescendingly says Siham “also destroyed all the trust Israel has placed on its Arab citizens.” Amin reads a letter she sent him prior to the attack and it turns out she indeed did the bombing. Outraged, Amin travels to Nablus to find out how his wife was recruited. He’s led into a dark world where Islamic politics wash up against Palestinian nationalism, and finds she was radicalized by the Jenin Massacre of 2002. I was worried this film would offer a black and white depiction of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but it (based on the novel by Yasmina Kahdra) is smartly more complex. One weakness is the opening scene, a plot device that doesn’t work very well. It’s a little too pat to have Amin go from one night being the toast of Israeli medicine to soon being a suspect in a terrorist bombing. And Amin’s eventual decision to take a side doesn’t seem supported enough by what he learned during his exploration of why his wife became a suicide bomber. Nevertheless, the film is taut, the acting is fine, and this is a quite realistic glimpse into the duality of Israeli-Palestinian societies, with great urban visuals on both side of the Israeli “Security Fence.”

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