In 2019, when this title was released, ten years had passed since the feature film trilogy that made Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman famous. Those movies –Chronicle of a Disappearance (1996), Divine Intervention (2002) and The Time That Remains (2009) – defined some style keys that made up an ethical and aesthetic unit: the leading role of the director in front of the camera and the clarification of his point of view, the use of family and friends instead of actors, the poignant portrait of everyday life of life in an occupied territory, reflection on identity, modernity, progressivism and its contradictions. Suleiman’s approach, based on black humor and irony, is detached from the usual dramatizations about war conflicts in the Middle East, largely thanks to the construction of independent scenic vignettes that each contribute and in their successive accumulation , an absurd and dreamlike tone to the whole.
Despite the temporal distance between this production and the previous ones, Suddenly paradise maintains many points of contact with the director’s other films. The character Suleiman, our guide throughout the tour, is an almost undaunted, silent and expressionless observer of the reality that surrounds him, first in Nazareth, his native land, and then in Paris and New York, places to which he seems to flee in looking for new possibilities to finance your cinema. If his relatives used to appear in the trilogy, now what remains of them is a lonely house with photos, a walker and a wheelchair that anonymous young people take away in a van. The immediate ties with the past are gone, but there are still the symbols: the lemon tree in the garden, the new tree that must continue to be watered, the architecture of doors and windows, the dirt streets, the magical thinking of the neighbors and others. traces of the weight of a culture that, masterfully, the director manages to make appear in front of our eyes without appealing to exoticisms or romanticizing stereotypes.
The Palestinian reality that we observe through Suleiman’s gaze is that of a people whose religion seems to be based on meaningless rituals, marked by violence, police repression and general unrest. A supposed superficial solidarity covers with daily the individualistic interests of the members of the community, often caught in absurd confrontations. But the interesting thing is that, beyond the effective transmission of an oppressive and tragicomic atmosphere, Suleiman never fails to make us notice, from the composition and montage, that what he is showing us is pure artifice. “This is cinema, and it’s a lie,” he seems to tell us all the time, proposing a game in which we are invited to enjoy the symmetry, the reframing, the superpositions and the movement that the characters or objects make in each flat. At the same time, most of those playful proposals in which we naively fall hide pessimistic and dark meanings that denounce inequality, hypocrisy and aggressiveness as insurmountable consequences of societies controlled by global power, too similar everywhere.
Suleiman arrives in Paris and portrays the supposed paradisiacal promises that the city offers him in a sequence in which dozens of scantily clad beautiful women, unquestionable symbols of Western freedom and capitalist sensuality, parade past him as the voice of Nina Simone sings I Put a Spell on You. But the western spell does not last long: the French are not exempt from hunger or militarization; the fashion and beauty industry is leaning on the backs of thousands of migrants; the naturalization of charity prevents any kind of systemic questioning. And if until then we had not realized the questions about the representation that the staging puts on the table, inviting us to distrust his own constructions, now Suleiman meets a progressive producer who rejects his next film for not being « Palestinian enough. The filmmaker’s passage through New York is practically analogous to what he does in Paris, although the portrait of American society is made with a somewhat thicker brush. However, the encounter with the actor Gael García Bernal and the sequence in which the Police chase a girl dressed in the Palestinian flag and two angel wings are ambiguous enough to forcefully close the accumulation of brilliant and devastating scenes that composes the film, perhaps much more effective in terms of empathy than the abundance of blood and torn bodies.
Paradise is nowhere and in Palestine less than less. Suleiman watches from his car how, in another car next to him, two Israeli soldiers exchange sunglasses, amused, while they carry a woman with her hands tied and blindfolded in the back seat. The unexpected scene is an extremely effective and uncomfortable reminder of human rights violations. But Palestine is also the young people dancing hard at a disco, and the girls carrying buckets of water on their heads through the forest, and the beautiful cacti that adorn the hill, and the complex dialogue with the spectators from all over. the world that Suleiman generates over and over again, with courage and aesthetic rigor.