In The Attack, a remarkable, beautifully made film now playing at Landmark Shattuck Theaters, the intractability of the Israeli/Palestinian divide is explored on a heartbreakingly personal level. Amin Jaafari (excellent Ali Suliman of Paradise Now) is a successful Arab surgeon living comfortably in Tel Aviv with his Palestinian-born, social worker wife, Siham (Israeli actor, Reymond Amsalem).
As the film begins, Amin is receiving a career achievement award; he’s the first Arab to win this special award. His easy relations with his many Israeli friends and colleagues lead him to believe that he is exempt from racial and cultural attacks. He’s an urbane, non-practicing Muslim, a caring, highly respected surgeon, who is nevertheless surrounded by the Middle East undercurrent of racial animus.
When an Israeli emergency room patient, one of many injured in a bombing, refuses to be treated by Amin, he quietly withdraws. Later that night, he is called back to the hospital, not as a surgeon, but as a husband, to identify his wife’s body. He is told that his wife was the suicide bomber.
Instantaneously, the shocked and grieving Amin is targeted as a potential terrorist and traitor. After finally being freed from a multi-day police interrogation, Amin is adrift. In flashbacks, we see the couple’s loving relationship. Did he romanticize the relationship? Did he ignore her signals?
Amin begins a quest to understand his wife’s actions and the larger issue of how a terrorist is made. He visits his Arab family and his wife’s Palestinian relatives. Here he learns the unyielding dichotomy — an Israeli terrorist is a Palestinian hero.
The Attack is a complex film that doesn’t shy away from exposing conflicting viewpoints. We see modern Tel Aviv and its glittering towers along the Mediterranean, and Palestine full of stone and rubble. We learn that beneath some sophisticated Israelis lies a cold and hardened heart. We see Palestinians who live to commit terror without regard to its consequences.
Interestingly, the political divide exists in the filming and distribution of The Attack. Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri (cinematographer on Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction) violated Lebanese laws that prohibit travel to Israel. Arab extremists supposedly have found the film’s even-handed portrait of multifaceted problems overly sympathetic to Israel. As a result, the film is banned in Lebanon; it has not been shown in any Arab state.
What makes The Attack so exceptional, aside from the excellent performances, and Yasmina Khadra’s award-winning novel on which it is based, is that it is presented as a man’s journey of self-discovery.
Director: Ziad Doueiri
Screenwriters: Ziad Doueiri and Joële Touma
Based on the novel, “L’Attentat” by Yasmina Khadra
Starring: Ali Suliman, Reymonde Amsellem, Evgenia Dodena, Uri Gavriel
Run Time: 102 minutes
Arabic, Hebrew with English subtitles
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal is on vacation.
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