Divine Intervention

Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention is a masterpiece of oblique eloquence and dark humor….

Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention is a masterpiece of oblique eloquence and dark humor….

How is it possible to make a Palestinian film? How is it possible to express the rage and frustration, the sense of complete blockage, the continued determination to live an everyday life under conditions in which everydayness itself seems to have been put under permanent suspension?

Suleiman’s solution is to make an absurdist film, one that strives to be as absurd as daily life has become for the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. (A similar reflection is what led Chester Himes to call one volume of his autobiography My Life Of Absurdity. Nothing more absurd than racism and racial segregation, yet nothing more inescapable, once it is in place).

By “absurdist,” I don’t quite mean ridiculous. There are no belly laughs in Divine Intervention, just a slight and subtle displacement of everything, just enough of a shift that the world does not make sense. The film is slow and requires patience. There are a lot of scenes of nothing but waiting: especially at the checkpoint where Israeli soldiers scrutinize and check the IDs of passers-by, allowing them to cross or not seemingly at whim. The long silences, the long shots, and the mise-en-scene in which some slight detail is just askew enough to make you do a double-take (if you notice it at all) reminded me of Jacques Tati, actually; though Suleiman’s overall mood is quite different from Tati’s.

There are some marvelous sequences in Divine Intervention: some of the gags at the border crossing, and especially the scene of Israeli soldiers’ target practice (which I won’t describe, except to say that the scene moves from a twisted musical production number to an over-the-top Hong Kong action sequence without missing a beat). But what’s most impressive is the overall mood and style of the film: which deliberately comes close to flirting with the so-called “imitative fallacy” (making the viewer feel as trapped in absurdity as the characters in the film, and the real people whose situation they share feel), yet pulling this off with a hyperbolic wit and grace.