Paradise Now (Abu-Assad, 2005) is a very different film to Chronicle of a Disappearance (Suleiman, 1996). It’s follows a much more traditional, and linear, narrative structure. And it’s very clearly not a documentary; both it’s narrative and visual style root it firmly in the fictional.
But there are some similarities. Just as Elia Suleiman refuses to directly engage with the political arguments between Israel and Palestine, instead sticking rigidly to personal vignettes fixed in the present, so too Abu-Assad sticks to a very personal story (albeit one of suicide bombers). His two leads don’t seem particularly religiously devout or politically motivated (despite their willingness to die). But Abu-Assad’s decision to focus on such a personal story is yet another example of shading round these fundamental issues and revealing the cracks that they create. The wider political divisions are explored through the small story that Abu-Assad tells: “The personal is made the political in the most emphatic manner (Jaafar, 2006)”.
Abu-Assad also tells much of his story non-verbally, keeping his subjects silent and leaving the audience to infer what they are thinking. It’s another way of subverting the oral story telling tradition that is deeply embedded in Palestine, but in a different (and perhaps more conventionally cinematic) manner than Suleiman’s anti-interviews. And Abu-Assad also hints at the Palestinian reportage tradition in a scene in which the two proposed bombers record their final statements, explaining their reasons and saying goodbye to their families.
The binary nature of Palestine is also touched upon when Said (one of the chosen bombers) visits a photo and video shop with his love interest, Suha, who spots a row of VHS tapes behind the counter and asks the shop’s owner what they are. We discover that some of these tapes record Palestinian martyrs’ farewell speeches before they carry out their suicide missions, while the remainder capture the final confessions of collaborators (Palestinians who aid Israel) before they are executed by their countrymen. This dichotomy between martyr and collaborator is reflected in Said’s decision to choose a martyr’s death over the collaborator’s execution which befell his father. He sees no other way to live (or die).
Abu-Assad, H., (2005), Paradise Now, Razor Film Produktion GmbH
Jaafar, A., (2006), Paradise Now, Sight and Sound, 16 (5), pp. 63
Suleiman, E., (1996), Chronicle of a Disappearance, Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC)