only human 88.
(photo credit: )
Two very different movies set in Israel have just opened in the US: Ushpizin, a story of contemporary ultra-Orthodox life in Jerusalem, starring and written by the newly Orthodox actor Shuli Rand; and Paradise Now, Hany Abu-Assad's look at two suicide bombers, which opens in Israel on November 10. Both received generally positive reviews. That's more of a surprise in the case of Ushpizin, not because it isn't a good movie, but because the world it depicts is far more remote from the experience of most critics than that of the suicide bombers in Paradise Now.
After all, CNN and other news stations regularly cover Palestinian extremist groups, but haredim rarely make news in the US. However, Ushpizin director Gidi Dar clearly managed to strike a chord with reviewers. Stephen Holden, writing in The New York Times, noted that the movie is ground-breaking both because it is an insider's look at the ultra-Orthodox and because "its warmhearted vision of marriage among hassidic Jews is also radically different from the depiction of anguished female subservience to patriarchal authority portrayed in movies like Boaz Yakin's A Price Above Rubies and Amos Gitai's Kadosh.... A robust woman with a temperament as fiery as her husband's, Rand's Malli may follow the patriarchal rules, but she's the furthest thing from a wilting handmaiden bowing and scraping before her master." He concludes that: "Stylistically Ushpizin belongs to a classic tradition of raucous Yiddish comedy that is easy to enjoy if taken lightly," although the main characters are quintessentially Israeli and Hebrew, not Yiddish, is the language spoken on their street.
But Holden is right that the tone of the film, which unfolds like a fable, with several plot twists clearly not intended to be especially realistic, takes its inspiration from the Yiddish theatrical tradition.
Reviewers were more cautious in their reviews of Paradise Now. J. Hoberman of the Village Voice wrote about the making of the film in the West Bank and Nazareth, describing "the filmmakers dodging near-daily firefights and missile attacks while walking a cautious line between the Israeli occupying army and various Palestinian armed factions. The politics are similarly ambiguous or, rather, complex... [Director Abu-Assad is] less specific regarding the nature of the cell that has recruited Said and Khaled - it seems too secular to be Hamas, insufficiently ideological for the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade."
In the end, Hoberman concluded, "Paradise Now may not succeed in inspiring sympathy for these hapless terrorists, but it does compel an appreciation for the unbearable sense of humiliation that may fuel such acts."
Kyle Smith, writing in the New York Post, sees the film differently: "Though told from the view of Palestinian suicide bombers and featuring several anti-Israel speeches, Paradise Now won't be turning up on Hamas' 10-best list. You know how most films portray US troops in Iraq: They're ill-educated rubes who are in way over their heads on an absurd and futile mission. Still, it's a surprise - a shock, even - to see the same treatment given to Palestinian terrorists. Said and Khalid, two Palestinian auto mechanics from Nablus recruited for a suicide bombing, seem less like holy warriors than the Arab equivalent of the guys from Dude, Where's My Car? ... Propaganda is terror's best friend, but Paradise Now is clever enough to make that buddy work for our side for a change."
We'll have to wait another week to find out how Israeli audiences respond to Paradise Now. Although there will likely be calls for a boycott, there will be curious moviegoers who won't want to ignore the film. It's showing at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, in the presence of the actors and director, on Thursday at 9:30 p.m., and will open for a regular run at various theaters the next day.
ANOTHER, MUCH lighter look at Israeli-Palestinian relations, Only Human is playing today at the Jerusalem Cinematheque at 4:30 p.m. Directed by the husband-and-wife team of Dominic Harari and Teresa di Peligri, the movie tells of a young Jewish woman in Spain engaged to a Palestinian academic. The only thing she's told her fiercely Zionist family is that he is from Israel and, the night she brings him home for dinner, it takes quite a while for them to figure out his real background (and for him to understand the half-truth she has told them).
The story may not be very realistic, but the film is extremely funny and manages to poke fun at the predictable kinds of arguments and discussions on "the situation" that are common both here and abroad. Although the movie is set in Spain, a friend from Argentina assured me that the characters are a "classically Argentine Jewish family." For example, the teenage son who is trying to become ultra-Orthodox is a type that wouldn't be found in Spain.
The movie is set in Spain, she suggested, because it was financed largely with Spanish money.
In any case, it's a sophisticated comedy worth seeing.