An amazingly ambitious film, the Attack, reaches for a larger statement beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an intriguing, multi-layered story concerned with identity on a personal level. It seems a challenge to transcend a historic conflict by focusing on a private relationship, but by sticking with close human relations and using an intimate style of shooting, somehow director Ziad Doueiri succeeds. Though set against a backdrop of more than 2,000 years of conflict and the baggage that comes with that an important statement lies at the heart of the story: whether anyone can know another person wholly, even if they are their most intimate partner.
Based on Yasmina Khadra’s award-winning best-selling novel, the film deals with a Palestinian doctor, Amin (Ali Suliman), who has comfortably integrated in Tel-Aviv with a Christian Arab wife, Siham (Reymond Amsalem). However, his world is up-ended when his wife is implicated in a suicide bombing that kills 19 people, including 11 children. Beyond the horrors of this scenario, the film follows this man’s quest for the truth while illustrating how ultimately difficult it is to know anyone.
Doueiri was Quentin Tarantino’s first assistant cameraman from Reservoir Dogs into Jackie Brown, and he proves that he learned some lessons from this master filmmaker from a standpoint of subtle, moody suspense. But, ultimately, it’s his deeper understanding of the conflict he grew up with that informs his film. It’s unfortunate that in May, the League of Arab States asked all of its 22 member nations to boycott the film, including the director’s home country of Lebanon. In shooting part of the movie in Israel, he had violated a decades-old Lebanese rule prohibiting citizens from working there. But, the director has noted, that is not the real reason why the Attack was banned, but because his film fails to demonize Israel, which goes against the propaganda he grew up with as a child in Lebanon.
What’s so powerful about this film is that there is no room for demons on either side when such a complex relationship lies at the heart of the movie. The film efficiently establishes this relationship within its first few minutes. Siham tells Amin that every day he leaves her a small piece of her dies. It’s a heavy statement that is meant to inform this relationship where this career-driven man seems to have put work ahead of her. He is off to accept an award from the Israeli medical community. During an introductory speech Siham calls him, and he must abruptly cut the call short. As he rises to visit the stage, a female colleague, Kim (Evgenia Dodena), brushes his face rather intimately to congratulate him. The next day he is having lunch with Kim and other doctors when a distant explosion rattles the building.
Via brief scenes, the suspicion that descends on Amin grows more and more suffocating. On top of dealing with the trauma of identifying Siham’s body, he becomes the target of harsh police interrogation tactics and vengeful vandals. Halfway through the film, he decides to visit Siham’s family in the city of Nablus in the West Bank. Doueiri does a great job presenting the culture shock, from the taxi driver who insists they listen to a sheikh’s hateful speech to an even more shocking revelation on how news of Siham’s implication in the bombing is regarded by those living in the city.
The director uses tight shots on the actor’s face and a very modern electronic ambient music coupled with shivering strings by Éric Neveux to enhance the contemplative, quiet suffering of Amin. Forgiving a couple of heavy-handed melodramatic moments, for the most part, Doueiri sticks to a moody work, using lots of shadow and quiet moments that reveal a temperance the film fares better to stick with. Amin wanders in the middle of two worlds, more alone than ever. The more he learns, the more lonely he seems. The deeply entrenched divides between these people is powerfully revealed through a most intimate search for truth that ends on a rather wry personal note the speaks to some rather heart-breaking possibilities. It’s quite a journey to take whether you are Arab, Jew or other.
The Attack is rated R, runs 102 min., and is in Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles. It opens in South Florida Friday, June 28, at the following theaters:
Miami: The Tower Theater, Intracoastal Mall
Fort Lauderdale: Sunrise 11
Boca Raton/West Palm Beach: Regal Delray 18, Movies at Delray, Movies of Lake Worth, Frank Theaters Delray, Living Room Cinemas, Boca, Regal Shadowood
Fort Myers: Regal Bell Tower
The studio provided me with a preview screener on-line for the purposes of introducing and discussing the film at O Cinema as part of its Gathr Preview screenings, back in early June. More information on Gathr in Miami can be found here.