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Marco Abel 24 May 2010 Destruction of Perception: Hany Abu‐Assad’s alternatives in cinema and terror from Paradise Now When presented with Paradise Now (2005), the writer and director Hany Abu‐Assad crafts a fictional world inspired by the harsh realities of the Palestinian‐Israeli conflict. This world brings attention to the real‐world struggle while also using cinematic techniques and dialogue to address the role of the medium, the cinema, which is delivering his alternative reality. Within the film, examples show how the director chooses to illuminate the filming process while “destroying those prevailing perceptions, those images, to build a new perception.” By engaging the audience outside of the standard narrative, Abu‐Assad shows the cinema’s versatile ability to inspire and reflect on the ideas surrounding Palestinian‐Israel conflicts. Abu‐Assad’s Paradise Now follows in step with Joseph Massad’s notion that: “What Palestinian filmmakers have succeeded in doing in the last 30 years is to tell many important Palestinian stories that the world had never heard before.” When the film’s main character Said (Kais Nashif) goes to return the keys to the potential love interest Suha (Lubna Azabal), the film digresses away from the suicide attack narrative and a conversation between the two blossoms. One subject that gets foregrounded in their conversation is the cinema. This shifts the audience away from storytelling details and into a discussion of politics and culture that extends outside the borders of Nablus. Suha reveals positive past experiences of attending films at the cinema. Said’s only experience with the cinema was burning one down after the Jewish owners neglected to hire Arabs. Abu‐Assad discusses the opportunities one gathers from attending the cinema in his interview with Dan Georgakas and Barbara Saltz: “Film is about allowing you to go to places you will never go, to be persons that you
will never be.” The atmosphere of possibilities within the film’s fictional realities provide for various experiments on culture and the human condition. Critiques and alternatives can entertain peoples’ imaginations and let them be new people for a brief time. Suha has had experiences with genres of film that expanded her worldview. Said has never had the privilege to be anywhere but under Jewish occupation. He destroyed a medium of possibilities for coping with Israeli occupation. He relied on a familiar tactic to express his ideas ‐ bombs. What makes this scene so important is that the Abu‐Assad is using his film as a platform to
discuss in fiction, yet show in reality, that the cinema can be a tool for engaging in realities alternative to revenge bombings. This point in the film reminds the audience that what they are seeing is one of the alternative realities to the world outside the cinema. The audience is taking part in the director’s experiment with his fictional world he has created on screen. Next, he will continue the cinematic experiment of alternative worlds while calling attention to the film making process. Abu‐Assad brings attention to the film making process during the video addresses made by Said and Khaled (Ali Suliman) in Abu‐Salid’s (Muhammad Bustami) hideout. The scene incorporates suspense by filling a constant shot with Khaled holding a gun, reading his bold statements, and standing in front of militant insignia. We see some shot‐reverse‐shots between Khaled and Said that build the tension up to the end of Khaled’s reading. Immediately after he finishes, the cameraman notes that the camera was not working and they’ll need a second take. This extreme emotional swing comes during a scene that most Western audiences would stereotypically associate with suicide bombers. What most audiences never consider are a films outtakes. Abu‐Assad shows that these men are not hardened veterans that have a superhuman powers derived from their vengeful god; but rather they are common men, with setbacks and limitations that require multiple tries to achieve a goal. In the same way it takes these men multiple tries to create a respectable video, film studios and
production companies must overcome numerous setbacks to create a finished reel. Audiences are
generally not encouraged to think about how film is made when they view it, but Abu‐Assad is calling attention to this process, reminding his audience that they are watching something staged and planned out. His exposure of realistic mechanical difficulties that can occur while filming gives comedic relief after the characters are trying to build up their heroic stories of their future actions. Abu‐Assad undercuts this heroism to show their humanity and to take power away from video. This revelation gives the audience a chance to think more about how suicide bomber videos are made. The men in the videos can be seen as actors, telling a story. Abu‐Assad’s choice to interrupt the standard ingesting of video‐ recorded bombers allows for a new way to consider the exaggerations surrounding the real videos that exist in the world outside of experimental film worlds and their audiences. Abu‐Assad readdresses the importance and power of video/film when Suha and Said have a
brief back‐and‐forth conversation with a store owner who sells and rents copies of martyrs and collaborators. Having supplied his audience with extra behind‐the‐scene footage of similar videos, he challenges them by showing the world lacking this previous knowledge. The shop owner states that he gets more money from tapes of collaborators than he does of the martyrs, illustrating a prevailing destructive atmosphere. However destructive this atmosphere may be, Abu‐Assad evidences the notion that people of Nablus are receptive to the visual/auditory medium. These short videos provide entertainment, education, and inspiration to the citizenry. The audience has heard how the cinema positively impact Suha’s life, how boring Said’s life is without having ever experienced the cinema, and now we see how the society at large is susceptible to this same medium. In some very direct ways, this medium shapes and reaffirms the destructive atmosphere. Because Abu‐Assad digresses away from Said’s bombing again, we can see he is suggesting to the audience that the medium of film can mobilize (or manipulate) audiences into action, especially if they do not know how the medium works. As the film ends with a slow zoom in on Said, tension builds as the audio fades out into silence.
The final shot is an extreme close up of the character’s green eyes before a cut to a blank white screen.
Abu‐Assad neglects to show the would‐be explosion and instead focuses on long shot that follows other main characters as they break the 4th wall rule of filmmaking. To end the film with a montage and then extreme close‐up, both breaking through the 4th wall, solidifies the director’s yearning to remind his audience of the seriousness that inspired his fictional world. By breaking the 4th wall with multiple characters, he creates this repetition that exposes the audience to their own position in reality. What they see is not in itself real, but has been inspired by the reality of how powerful ideas can be, whether they originate from a terror group or a film director. Ideas, and the actions they come to inspire, can only be changed or eclipsed by new ideas, and Abu‐Assad shows how the cinema can work as a real exercise in fictional possibilities that inspire real action.
1. 2. 3. Hany Abu‐Assad from, “This is a Film You Should See Twice.” By Dan Georgakas and Barbara Saltz Pg. 42 of Joseph Massad’s, “Weapon of Culture: Cinema in the Palestinian Liberation Struggle” Hany Abu‐Assad from, “This is a Film You Should See Twice.” By Dan Georgakas and Barbara Saltz
Bibliography Georgakas, Dan and Saltz, Barbara. “This is a Film You See Twice: An Interview with Hany Abu‐Assad.” Cineaste Winter (2005): 16‐19. Kapitan, Tomis. “Terrorism in the Arab‐Israeli Conflict.” 175‐190. Massad, Joseph. “Weapon of Culture: Cinema in the Palestinian Liberation Struggle.” 30‐42. Porton, Richard. “Roads to Somewhere: Paradise Now and Route 181.” Filmcomment September‐ October (2005): 73‐74.
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