Divine Intervention (2003)
Starring: Elia Suleiman, Manal Khader
Written and directed by Elia Suleiman
Studio: Avatar Films and KOCH Lorber Films
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo, Arabic and Hebrew
Extras: U.S. and French Theatrical Trailers, Director’s Interview
Length: 89 minutes
Divine Intervention opens with a view of a sun-dappled hillside framed by two trees and in the distance a man, his identity rendered anonymous by the distant view, runs along a vacant path. A few moments later, without the view changing, a group of people rushes along in obvious pursuit. The camera then follows the first man, now revealed to be dressed as Santa Claus with a wicker basket on his back filled with presents, as he runs up a hill chased by the group of young men. As he runs, gifts fall from the basket and he even stops to toss the remaining ones into the path of his pursuers, who ignore them as they run down the man dressed in red. The scene ends with Santa leaning against the ruins of a small building with a large knife protruding from his chest, and the group of youths watching him slide towards the ground. No words have been spoken.
My wife and I occasionally make a game of noticing and writing down Bizarre and Beautiful occurrences in everyday life. It could be a lone, dreadlocked young man dressed in army surplus pants and a tie-dyed t-shirt carrying a lacey, frilly pink parasol over his head on a sunny day. Or it could be the melancholy sounds of a parking garage attendant practicing his trumpet while hidden from view in his ticket booth. Divine Intervention is filled with these same kinds of strangely beautiful images.
A man driving along and eating an apricot, tosses the pit out his window which strikes a tank parked by the side of the road, causing it to explode in a ball of flaming debris. Three men circle and beat an unseen victim on the ground with sticks, egging each other on with profane and murderous encouragements, until a fourth man comes over and shoots the victim. But it isn’t what it appears to be. One man walks out of his house and tosses a bag of garbage into the yard of his neighbor time and time again, and then chastises the neighbor when she throws his garbage back into his yard. Two old men sit in lawn chairs looking out over a dilapidated neighborhood as a soccer ball arches into and out of view from the alley below. A beautiful young Palestinian woman struts her way through an Israeli checkpoint rendering the armed soldiers impotent and useless. The same woman later becomes a superhero Palestinian ninja who battles armed Israelis and military helicopters, and overcomes them all in an over-the-top revenge fantasy.
Visually stunning, each scene of Divine Intervention is carefully composed and every element is perfectly placed and lit. More often than not, the camera is locked down and immobile, so that many scenes resemble still photographs with people or cars (reduced to small objects in the frame) flowing through the scene. It’s almost as if the writer, director and star, Elia Suleiman, based the aesthetics of the film around fine-art still photography rather than cinema. Mostly, it is a film without dialog and filled with deep contemplative silences. The included dialog is usually in the form of monologs, rather than conversations. Divine Interventions plays like a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes, rather than a film with a linear and cohesive plot. It is so closely tied to the Palestinian culture, from which it came, that many of the scenes are obscure and hard to interpret for people outside that culture. So scenes that would have deep resonances for Palestinians remain mysterious and veiled to Western audiences. This is a beautiful and dangerous movie that is both enchanting and frustrating at the same time, but it is well worth seeing this world through such very different eyes.
– Hermon Joyner