'History' on the big screen
TEL AVIV — The audience locks into an open-jawed chill as Said, the Palestinian suicide-bomber hero of "Paradise Now," passes by a strip of Tel Aviv cafes at the climax of the Oscar-nominated film.
Minutes later, Meital Goor emerges from the Cinematheque auditorium, pulling the knots of tension out of her arms. "You can identify with the emotion of the characters," says the 24-year-old graduate student. "But we see a different side because we are living in this situation. It's not far from us."
Along with Oscar candidates "Munich" and "Syriana," the nomination of the Palestinian-directed feature for best foreign film is a sign of Hollywood's growing interest in movies that delve into the political and emotional minefield of terrorism and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
But in a region where the celluloid tales play out daily in real life, both Israelis and Palestinians are doubtful whether the Hollywoodization of their quarrels will stir understanding abroad of the centuries-old conflicts.
"Not only will it not help solve things, it might show things that are incorrect, and people are influenced by that," says Tel Aviv Cinematheque director Alon Garbuz. "You can't form an impression from a Hollywood film about a genuine reality. The words 'depth' and 'Hollywood' don't go together."
Both "Munich," the story of Israeli intelligence agents carrying out revenge attacks for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games, and "Paradise Now" have stirred protest from Jewish groups for allegedly legitimizing terrorism and being critical of Israel's response. Families of the athletes criticized "Munich," while 33,000 signatures have been collected condemning praise for "Paradise Now."
But that hasn't stopped Israelis from seeing the film. "Munich" has been running for the past six weeks in Israel, while "Paradise Now" has been showing at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque ever since winning a Golden Globe for best foreign film. And even though more than 30,000 Israelis have seen "Paradise Now," a sympathetic portrait of a suicide bomber, it hasn't been shown in commercial cinemas.
"It's not suited to the Israeli consensus. They show all the reasons to commit suicide," says Ms. Goor, who worries how foreigners will be influenced by a movie she herself enjoyed.
Even fewer Palestinians have seen "Paradise Now," partly because there are so few movie houses in the West Bank or Gaza.
When Said, the suicide bomber in "Paradise Now," explains how he and some friends burned down the only cinema in Nablus in retaliation for an Israeli incursion, West Bank newcomer Suhu responds with disbelief. "Why the cinema?"
"Why us?" Said answers.
The exchange encapsulates the tragic logic that has come to dominate so much of the conflict.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Al-Kasaba cinematheque is waiting for another copy of "Paradise Now." "Palestinians are happy to a see a sympathetic film win praise in Hollywood, says Suad Rishmaioi, progam director at Al-Kasaba.
But, she adds, "Hollywood is a big production house, and they can produce what they want, and the audience will believe this as fact. That's a horrible situation."