Palestine in Film-Movie
Elia Suleiman is a Palestinian film director. He is also a writer and a screenwriter. Elia Suleiman also plays a leading role in the Divine Intervention, directed by himself.
Elia Suleiman was born on July 28, 1960 in Nazareth, Palestine, lived in New York for a long time during 1982-1993. During these years he co-produced a short film called Introduction to the End of an Argument, directed by Jayce Salloum. The film criticizes the representation of Arabic culture and Palestinians produced by Western mass-media, subverts methodology and construction of dominant Western mass-medias ways of representation. Jayce Salloum and Elia Suleiman have taken on an impression accreted via image and text by tracing their genesis in cinema and television. The movie exposes the racial biases concealed in familiar images.
In 1992, still in New York, Elia Suleiman directed Homage by Assassination. As a professor at Birzeut University, one of the most significant educational institutes in the Palestinian territory, Elia Suleiman developed a new Department of Film and Media, and has also been a guest lecturer in many universities around the world.
The central subject matter of Elia Suleimans works is an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Time That Remains, directed in 2009, is based on his fathers diaries. Saleh Bakri plays Elia Suleimans father in the film. The characters were exposed to changes in the midst of the conflict, and the loop of the film skips across different decades to show the changes. The tenor of the film is the dispassionate resignation of the people who face the conflict; at the same time the movie pierces through the mass media filters to show the events as the people really experienced them.
In his films Elia Suleiman tries to talk not only about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he tries to draw the attention to all of the conflicts on the globe. I’m talking about all conflicts and all regressions and all pollutions and the global economic crash, and globalization. In fact, The Time That Remains is not at all a metaphor of Palestine, mentions Elia Suleiman in his interview centered around his film Time That Remains. The author reflects on his experience and talks about Palestine where he comes from, but in identification with all Palestines that exist. “Arab-Israeli conflict” is alien to me in terms of the poetics of the word. I don’t think my film is about that altogether , adds Elia Suleiman in the interview.
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All of the artists experience is not local, its universal. You should never think about the boundaries when you compose the image. So we can say that cinema has universal nature. Poetry, music, architecture are the same. So The Time That Remains, Introduction to the End of an Argument share universal experience of all the conflicts on the globe.
If, by de facto, the spectator feels identification to the story of Palestine, that is when I’ll be achieving something. And if they go home and change a certain something to the better of the world, in their own locale, then they have been in my opinion, I would say, very pro-Palestinian, mentions Elia Suleiman in his interview.
The best reward for an artist is when a spectator or a reader has certain impulses of a positive construction, of a better life after sharing the authors experience.
Elia Suleiman directed several films. Here is his filmography:
Introduction to the End of an Argument (1990)
Homage by Assassination (1992),
The Gulf War… What Next? (1993),
Chronicle of a Disappearance (1996),
War and Peace in Vesoul (1997),
Cyber Palestine (1999),
Divine Intervention (2002),
To Each His Own Cinema (2007),
The Time That Remains (2009).
Elia Suleiman has also written some articles in cinema periodicals: Open Letter, “The Postponed Drama of Return”, “Necessary Illusions” etc.
Elia Suleiman was also a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006.
The two well-known films by Elia Suleiman are Divine Intervention (2002) and Chronicle of a Disappearance (1996).
Divine Intervention (Yadon ilaheyya)
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Divine Intervention may be described as a surreal comedy. The absurd in every scene mixed with comic situations makes this film really curios and extraordinary. It consists of several brief sketches that tell us about everyday life of Ramallah, a small town which is situated near the check-point between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Elia Suleiman plays the main part in the film.
His character is a man who keeps silence throughout all the film: when the man in the car tells him about beating and crushing the ribs of a guy who wouldnt move his car to let him and his brother pass; when E.S. watches the maltreatment of random Palestinian drivers being inflicted by Israeli soldiers; when shelling an egg for his father; when shaking his lovers hand sitting in a car near a check-point. When he and his mother are sitting and watching a buzzing appliance, the mother asks to switch the appliance off and release the pressure, but the main character (we do not know his name) keeps silence. The metaphor is not subtle. It shows us the real situation in the Palestine territory: everyone is suffering, but there is no one to release the pressure. There are two scenes in a movie that release the pressure. The only way to release is by embracing the absurdity – an Arafat-decorated balloon flying over a check-point between Ramallah and Jerusalem. In the second scene we see a pretty woman crossing the border between Palestine and Israeli, and soldiers do not dare to shoot. It is an image of a Divine Intervention embodied in a pretty women who stops the war with beauty.
Divine Intervention does not contain any manifesto, political speeches, or political programs the message lies in the editing and the composition, in the whole atmosphere.
The key part of the atmosphere is its expressly routine quality: a man stands on a bus stop, another man sits in the kitchen and reads his papers, a French tourist is lost and asks an Israeli policeman for direction etc. There is a special scene in a film two young people are sitting in a car near the check-point touching each others hands.
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There is another scene in a film that shows a frozen life of a Palestinian town occupied by Israeli forces. A boy is playing with a ball on the street, it falls onto a roof and an old man pierces it with a knife and returns it. E.S. father gets out o f home, gets into his neighbors house, and then we hear sounds of punching and kicking; we do not see the action. A similar sequence appears 26 minutes later the same boy is playing a ball on the street again. The spectators are expecting to hear the sounds of a fight again, but another scene starts: several men are kicking something we cannot see. The scene is silent. Than a man appears. He has a gun. The man discharges the gun onto something we cannot see. A man armed with a bludgeon lifts up something that looks like a snake. A man arrives with a petrol can and burns the snake. End of the scene. A group of people is watching the scene of beating but does nothing to stop it. They are dormant.
We as spectators do not understand why these people are dormant. Why dont they stop the violence? When the unknown victim is then revealed and we realize that it was a snake, we feel relief as well as a vague sense of danger. A latent feeling of anger is mixed with stagnancy, and it feels like the venom of a snake making its way through the body and paralyzing it slowly.
The whole atmosphere is dormant and frozen. And life seems to be the same. The emotions of the characters are frozen and their faces are unruffled, no matter if something absurd or offensive is happening. The characters encounter the joy with the same impartial faces. They seem to be paralyzed by the permanent tensions and a feeling of hopelessness, the impossibility to change anything around them.
The trailer of this film contains an image that seems to be very important when you try to experience the movie. This image is symbolic: a female Palestinian ninja with a halo of bullets, arms extended as if crucified. A several Israeli soldiers try to shoot her, but she beats them. It is implied that she beats them with her faith. This is how I understand the image.
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The three last minutes set out an outsider view of the life in Palestine, how painful and insufferable it must be in an intimate, sensitive way. It is the scene with a man in a car who tells E.S. how he and his brother broke the ribs of a man who refused to move his car to let them pass. The film ends with a scene of E.S. and his mother sitting on a sofa watching a buzzing appliance.
Chronicle of a Disappearance
The second well-known film directed by Elia Suleiman is called Chronicle of a Disappearance produced by Dhat Productionsin in 1996. Chronicle of a Disappearance is a drama. It tells us about a man (E.S.) who returns to Nazareth after a long absence. The film consists of a series of sketches barely connected with each other. These sketches show us an everyday life of Nazaretyans with their conflicts and troubles. Those who are considered actors are real people whose lives were caught up by camera, then mounted and formed a movie as we see it on our screens.
The film is divided into two sections. The first section, “Nazareth Personal Diary”, features comic routines of Nazaretyans, the warmth of E.S. relatives lives. Jerusalem Political Diary, the second section, has a more overtly ideological message and is full of absurd humor. The central theme is a feeling of an anti-Israeli paranoia in the characters. The sense of the film is not only in the narrative, but in a daily life of Israel. Chronicle of a Disappearance is a non-linear movie; the images are portrayed without a center, leaving the audience to piece all the fragments together. The viewer finds a meaning for himself from a number of events in which no apparent coherence exists. In Chronicle of a Disappearance Suleiman tries to call in question a collective notion of Palestine nation. The film has received a world-wide acclaim and took part at the 1996 Venice Film Festival ( Best First Film Prize).
As a filmmaker, a writer and a screenwriter who was born and grew up in Palestine, occupied by an Israeli army, Suleiman is a denial of any ethical foregrounding. During half of a century Palestinians have been permanently abused, murdered, beaten and tortured; their homes have been blown up and farms destroyed. And the world was dormant, just like that group of silent persons who were watching the beating of a snake in the Divine Intervention. For Palestinians that has been a moral, suspension of belief. Their lives are yet to begin. Palestinians are just like the tabula rasa of Arab History, a nation standing in the midst of the dream of a better world that is yet to come.