Divine Intervention

Reviewed By Doug Bentin
Posted 08/16/05 15:05:38

"This is a film of strong satire and comic brilliance."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

No divine intervention takes place during the course of Elia Suleiman’s hilarious, absurd, and oh so odd satire on political uncertainty in the Holy Land. Divine intervention is what is needed in order to make the people who live there stop poking at each other.

Every day a man tosses garbage bags full of trash over a wall. Finally, the woman living on the other side throws it all back. The man thinks it’s shameful that she would do such a thing without discussing it with him first.

A nervous man who “won’t say a sentence without the word ‘six’ in it” visits a welder in a body shop just to use sentences with the word “six” in them.

A man tosses an apricot pit out his car window and blows up an Israeli tank.

Men in hospitable rise from their sick beds and wheel their IV bottles into the hall so they can grab an illegal smoke with the doctors and nurses.

The photo of a Palestinian woman is used by Israeli sharpshooters as a target until it comes to life and, ninja style, knocks them all out using a slingshot.

Do any of these things ever connect into a recognizable narrative? No, but they don’t have to. Enough of them seem to be saying the same thing and we soon learn to go with the flow of images and forget about narrative. This is a film of vignettes and blackout sketches. If we weren’t seeing, over and over again, the extremes to which people are willing to go to be petty, we’d just laugh. Knowing what Suleiman is up to, we laugh but we also glance around to make sure that no one is glaring at us and thinking, “Yeah, that’s the way that jerk acts all the time.”

Determining who is Palestinian and who Israeli is difficult at times. Sometimes it seems like it should matter, and at other times the point appears to be that it doesn’t matter at all because the people on both sides of the dispute are idiots. It’s as if a feud has been going on for years over a goat that ate someone’s laundry, but no one can remember now who owned the goat and who owned the washing.

From the film’s opening sequence which presents Santa Claus, a knife sticking out of his chest and pursued by a gang of four schoolboys, stumbling through the countryside just outside of Nazareth, to the final shot of a pressure cooker steaming on a stove, “Divine Intervention” presents a series of effects that are the results of causes we haven’t seen. When actions seem to make no sense at all, Suleiman holds his shots so long, we begin to manufacture meaning of our own.

The characters are obsessive in their determination to get under someone’s skin. They stand, they sit, they stare at nothing, and their unrelated actions hint at a kind of madness. It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way, and expecting that the end result will be different each time. All these characters live inside their own heads and all we see are the odd manifestations of their thoughts.

My favorite bits deal with a police van that is parked on the curb, the officer behind the wheel apparently on stake-out duty. A young tourist steps up to the driver’s window with a map in her hand and asks directions to a Christian church. The cop gets out, walks to the rear of the van, unlocks the door, and helps a blindfolded prisoner step onto the road. The prisoner, hands cuffed, gestures in the right direction, the tourist walks off and the men return to the van.

Later, she returns to find out how to get to a mosque. When the policeman goes to get the prisoner again, he unlocks the rear door of the vehicle and looks within. Then he rushes back into the van and drives off, peeling rubber and leaving the young woman in the road. Apparently, his handcuffed, blindfolded prisoner has managed to escape.

Yes, “Divine Intervention” is not the easiest movie to figure out. You want brainless, that’s why God allows stuff like “The Dukes of Hazzard.” But if you’re up for a challenge and have a taste for the absurd and surreal, you can’t do better than “Divine Intervention,” which won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2002.

And how’s this for a final absurdity—the film wasn’t accepted as a nominee for the Foreign Language Oscar the year of its release because it didn’t come from a country that is recognized by the Academy.

Someone in Hollywood needs to learn to connect. Only connect.

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