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    Divine Intervention

    Otherwise occupied

    Aimed specifically at a Palestinian audience, "Divine Intervention" takes on the strangeness of life in the occupied territories with moments of laughable absurdity and poignant symbolism often appreciable to an outside audience as well.


    "Divine Intervention" starts with a strange and intriguing sequence — outside the city of Nazareth, a man in a Santa suit is huffing and puffing his way through a field and up a hillside. Soon he's being pursued by a gang of teenagers, and the chase comes to a surprise ending atop the hill.

    Original title: Yadon Ilaheyya.
    Written and directed by: Elia Suleiman.
    Cast: Elia Suleiman, Emma Boltanski, Amer Daher, Jamel Daher, Nayef Fahoum Daher, George Ibrahim, Manal Khader, George Khleifi, Avi Kleinberger, Salman Nattor, Menashe Noy, Michel Piccoli, Nazira Suleiman..
    In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    It's only the first of many puzzling but entertaining episodes in this Palestinian film by Elia Suleiman, a sort of surreal sketch-comedy compilation set in the West Bank. If you're looking for a resolution to the Santa scene, you'll have to let go of it because there's no explanation forthcoming — just more vignettes, some that coalesce, some that don't.

    Odd little slices of life are strung together, one idea giving way to another like in the jauntily disjointed films "Slackers" and "True Stories." An old man stacks bottles meticulously on his roof for reasons that we can't make out — until the police show up wanting to have a word with him. A Jewish house is subjected to drive-by bombings one after another. (A reader sends the correction that it's a collaborator's house, not a Jewish house.) A group of youths attack a victim on the ground with sticks — though it turns out there's a twist. Many of these scenes come out of nowhere, but some are funny or disturbing and some give you a little emotional jolt.

    Divine Intervention  
    And then certain characters start to reappear, signaling that maybe something is going on beneath the surface. That something is never altogether clear, but Suleiman entertains us with scenes that are first farcical and then increasingly meaningful.

    In particular, two characters gravitate to the center of the film. E.S. (played by the writer-director, who uncoincidentally has the same initials) is a young Palestinian man living comfortably in Jerusalem, although his father lives in the West Bank. Every day he drives to an Israeli checkpoint and waits in the parking lot while the soldiers check each car and the drivers get frustrated with waiting.

    Shortly, another car will pull up from the opposite direction. A mysterious and ravishing West Bank woman gets out, gets into E.S.'s car on the passenger's side, and the two hold hands and impassively watch the checkpoint activity all day. Ah, togetherness.

    Extraordinary things happen whenever this woman (Manal Khader) is around. Her mere passing causes a guard tower to crumble while the Israeli soldiers — too spellbound to shoot — watch her sway seductively down the road, without a care for the rules, the guns and the soldiers' warnings. It's a scene that reflects anger, to be sure, but it's magical and funny at the same time. This woman comes to symbolize Palestinians' aspirations for freedom, an end to military domination and restrictions on their lives. Before the end, she will fail to show up at the checkpoint, and we ultimately see where she went — through a scene in which bullets fly and supernatural occurrences, however symbolically, change the course of Middle Eastern events.

    So many of the scenes we see are abstractions that many viewers are sure to walk away frustrated with the lack of clear structure and plot. Some scenes are just meant to be amusing, while others are calculated specifically to give some psychic satisfaction to Palestinian viewers. Assuming the audience's intimacy with the Palestinian experience, Suleiman offers a vision of a nation in which borders have fallen and Palestinians are free to walk through their own cities.

    With only a slim thread of linear narrative, "Divine Intervention" will quickly turn off viewers with traditional expectations, and it may indeed be a case where less is actually less — the film could have said more by having more structure. But individual snippets — and it is a movie of individual snippets, after all — do offer wry commentary on life in general as well as life in the occupied territories. If you're Palestinian you may well leave the theater glowing. But even as an outsider, you may laugh at some of the absurdities, appreciate some moments of poignancy, and remember some images that leave their imprint on your mind long after the film is over.

    JANUARY 17, 2003

    Reader comments on Divine Intervention:

  • Divine Intervention   from SUSANNAH, Apr 1, 2003
  • point of clarification   from saira, Apr 15, 2003
  • We need more movies like these   from sayyed, Jun 13, 2003
  • Strange "This is not avail anywhere in the US   from AM Matari, Nov 25, 2003
  • Divine Intervention   from Hanan, Dec 1, 2003
  • Linear narratives and Western lenses   from Roxsana, Dec 22, 2003
  • Divine Intervention   from Anne Dick, Feb 17, 2004
  • GARBAGE   from kushkush, Dec 18, 2005
  • Manal Khader   from patrick, May 18, 2008
  • Divine Intervention   from jose, Mar 5, 2009
  • Divine Intervention   from Arthur , Sep 6, 2012

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