Review of "Divine Intervention"
a film by Elia Suleiman
reviewed by Mike Lee
A surreal, depressing look into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told from a militant, overly intellectualized Palestinian perspective using wildly sardonic humor, brutally honest irony within a disjointed plot that at times is somewhat maddening but always surprising.
"Divine Intervention" opens with a sequence interpreted in a myriad of ways, depending on one's ideology: in a blatantly Bunuelistic turn a group of feralized children hunt down and murder Santa Claus on a hill overlooking Nazareth; a man unapologetically dumps his garbage into his neighbor's yard whilst in another scene a pleasant old man happily waves at passers-by as he mumbles hilarious obscene commentary regarding them. Another individual decides to battle the local cops, tossing bottles from his roof in a desperate chaos. This sequence reminded me of what my grandfather used to say about not crying when the dog you've been beating bites the hell out of you-and in Suleiman's film, there's no group of dogs ornerier than West Bank Palestinians, obviously.
The main plot concerns a relatively young man (played by Suleiman himself) visiting his father and later spending an afternoon with his girlfriend, who due to Israeli Army restrictions and roadblocks are able only to pass the time together in his car, parked at a vacant lot, holding hands with the passion of unhappy school children. Here, "Divine Intervention" becomes a story of love physically denied, and the extremes to which romantic desire and nationalist politics become intertwined in a time of an unyielding conflict. However, Suleiman fails to follow this up, instead tying this plot strand to video game fantasy, hopelessly exhausting an opportunity to tell a story. This film also conveys a stultifying claustrophobia; one gets the impression the entire West Bank is a Southern backwoods steel cage match with barbed wire wrapped about the ring and flaming pillars. While this approach is often heavy-handedly sententious, "Divine Intervention" makes no excuses for its point of view or attempts any pretensions in compromising its radical Palestinian nationalist viewpoint. However, there seems to be an unintended consequence in the process of viewing "Divine Intervention": while the Israelis portrayed are cartoon baddies, the Palestinian characters are hardly developed beyond cut-outs and plot devices. This slight makes it hard to like anyone in the film.