Dir. Hany Abu-Assad. 2005. PG-13. 90mins. Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal.
This taut drama following two suicide bombers over 48 hours is one of the most provocative and powerful movies to come out of the Middle East. Netherlands-based Palestinian filmmaker Abu-Assad (Rana's Wedding) employs a simple but muscular three-act structure, beginning with the last day of normal existence—or what passes as normal in the occupied West Bank town of Nablus—for best pals Said (Nashef) and Khaled (Suliman). Grease monkeys in an auto repair shop, they work, joke, goof off—until they are visited by an operative from an unidentified organization, who asks them to carry out a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv the next day. Act two details their preparations; act three begins when those plans get derailed.
Were the suspense generated only by the bombers' countdown, this would be merely an exploitative thriller. But by examining the backgrounds of the attackers, the film invites us to consider them not as inhuman monsters, but flawed, desperate men who undertake monstrous actions. Their tragedy is compounded by the introduction of a potential love interest; Suha (Azabal), the Western-educated daughter of a venerated Palestinian martyr, surprises Said with her rejection of the cult of martyrdom and its waste. Cinematographer Antoine Héberlé (Under the Sand) gets the moods right, from sun-dappled hillsides to shadowy hideouts, but the entire risk-taking crew of Europeans, Palestinians and Israelis deserve praise for a work of uncommon insight and sensitivity.—Andrea Gronvall