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PARADISE NOW

ARABIC + HEBREW | 90 MINUTES | KENDALL SQUARE + WEST NEWTON

" What happens afterward? " the young men want to know.

" Two angels pick you up. "

" Are you sure? "

Like many aimless young adults, Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) arenít sure about much. More interested in drinking tea and smoking from a nargileh than spending their days toiling at a West Bank auto-repair shop, these best friends since childhood could have wandered off the set of Richard Linklaterís Slacker, but thatís an oversimplification of a radical film thatís anything but simple. Said and Khaled also belong to a Nablus terrorist cell, and in 48 hours, theyíll enter Israel as suicide bombers, martyrs for a cause that offers equality in death that can never be achieved in life.

At least, thatís one theory. Hany Abu-Assadís film doesnít choose a single point of view but offers many; Saidís friend Suha (Lubna Azabal), daughter of a famed martyr, argues for peaceful resistance. Without apologizing for the actions of its human time bombs, the film (like Der Untergang|Downfall, Oliver Hirschbiegelís examination of Hitlerís last days) risks alienating some by putting a human face on monstrous acts of violence and focusing on the dignity that lurks behind evil.

The risks donít end there. Occasional bursts of humor punctuate the chillingly plausible build-up to the pairís date with destiny. And their videotaping of their final messages of martyrdom sets off a comedy of errors. First, neither has any idea how to hold a gun. Then, flubbing lines, they request multiple retakes. After a successful delivery, they learn thereís no tape in the camera. (Later, we discover that these tapes are popular black-market items.) The last half of the film finds the sensitive Said questioning his political motivation and quarreling with the committed Khaled. Will they find paradise? Abu-Assad offers no answers, only an attempt at understanding.

BY BRETT MICHEL

Issue Date: November 4 - 10, 2005
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