Lifelong Palistinian friends, Said (Kais Nashif) and Khaled (Aki Suliman) lead a normal life, working together in a garage and never discussing politics or religion. Having sometime ago volunteered to become suicide bombers they learn they have been chosen for the next mission and that it will begin in only 24 hours. But the carefully designed plans go awry as the two men are separated and cannot communicate. They have to face their destiny and their own convictions.

A triumph.

Paradise Now is one of the first films to bring the conflict in the Middle East up close and personal to a wider international audience. Controversial and moving, it focuses on two young Palestinians about to sacrifice their lives.

Best friends since childhood, both devoted to Islam, the film follows two young Palestinian men, Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), over a twenty-four hour period. During that time they are nominated to go on a suicide mission, to cross the border from their tumble down home town in the West Bank to Tel Aviv in nearby Israel.

The film boils with counterpoint and contrast. One of the most harrowing scenes is when, filled with dread, we witness the sombre preparations of Said and Khaled just before embarking on their fatal mission, from ritualistic cleansing to their last meal, then finally to the strapping on of explosives to their bodies. But absurdly, throughout the film, even the tensest of moments possess an element of humour.

When the operation doesn't go to according plan the young men are separated. While searching for each other they realise they have been given a second chance at life, and reflect on the consequences of their actions. Kais's love interest Suha (Lubna Azabal) is the moral and political compass of the film and the voice of reason. She tackles the young men head on about what they were - and are - about to do.

Enough of the story though. Here's what's great about Paradise Now. While the material is heavy this is not a heavy-handed film. Director Hany Abu-Assad's decision to employ a calm, naturalistic style to such highly political and emotionally charged material makes the film all the more powerful and memorable. Paradise Now also gives a face and a voice to those usually rendered faceless and voiceless by the Western media. Plus it transcends the staunch dogmatic positions taken by both sides in the argument; the act of suicide bombing by Palestinians is challenged and interrogated as much as the Israeli occupation of their traditional land. But most importantly, beyond the political arguments and the religious rigidity this story evokes, Paradise Now personalises the characters to the point where it hurts to contemplate what is about to happen to them and to those they will encounter.

It is a very intimate film, filled with quiet moments and grace, in spite of the violent context. Using such cinematic counterpoint is the perfect way for Hany-Assad to communicate his unflinching message: this is an impossible situation where no-one can possibly win. Peace therefore is the only solution. Paradise Now is great filmmaking - intelligent, moving and utterly compelling. It's a triumph.



Watch 'Paradise Now'

Monday 24 May, 7:50pm on SBS World Movies (streaming after broadcast at SBS On Demand)
Tuesday 25 May, 12:10pm & 11:55pm on SBS World Movies

Palestine, 2005
Genre: Drama, Crime
Language: Arabic
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Starring: Kais Nashif, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal

Paradise Now Review
A triumph.

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1 hour 27 min