Divine Intervention

Welcome the arrival of a major new cinematic talent. With Divine Intervention, Palestinian director and performer Ella Suleiman delivers a darkly comic masterpiece that has already prompted comparisons to the likes of Jacques Tati and Otar Iosseliani (nods to Buster Keaton and Nanni Moretti are just as valid). Suleiman’s film deserves equal praise for originality, though: he mates physical comedy with a visual flair that shows how well he understands the rich rewards that accompany a well-placed camera and the proper shot duration.
The film’s protagonist, E.S., is a character played by and clearly based upon the filmmaker himself. E.S. is burdened with a sick father, a stalled screenplay and an unrequited love affair with a beautiful Palestinian woman (Manal Khader). An Israeli checkpoint on the Nazareth-Ramallah road forces the couple to rendezvous in an adjacent parking lot. Suleiman’s wry chronicle sketches his hometown of Nazareth as a place consumed by ferocious absurdity, where residents nurse feuds, dump garbage into neighbours’ yards, and surreptitiously block access roads.
Political satire has so long been the domain of television and stand-up comedy that we may be forgiven our dim memory of its distinguished film lineage. Suleiman reclaims this birthright, introducing us to a world in which folly fights folly. In one controversial and intentionally unrealistic scene, Khader is transformed into a Xena-style Ninja warrior who engages in a surreal battle with Israeli soldiers. Suleiman’s brilliance is his fusion of humour with the grim politics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Divine Intervention is a powerful reminder that cinema can still remake the world, if only in our imagination.
France-Palestine-Morocco-Germany, 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 92 mins.

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