Film review: Divine Intervention

Published: Friday, Aug. 15 2003 7:32 a.m. MDT

Talk about your shocking opening scenes! Filmmaker Elia Suleiman kills off Santa Claus as "Divine Intervention" begins.

Admittedly, a goofy bit like that might seem as if it's a serious thematic digression for a film that's supposed to be about the relations between Arabs and Jews living in Palestine. But believe it or not, the scene is definitely in keeping with the tone of this truly odd little movie.

Subtitled "a chronicle of love and pain," "Divine Intervention" at first appears to be little more than a series of seemingly unconnected vignettes about mostly Palestinian characters. But as the film progresses, it becomes considerably more focused . . . even though it doesn't always make sense.

Suleiman, who wrote and directed the film, also stars as a character called E.S., whose life has taken some unexpected turns. His father (Nayef Fahoum Daher) is ailing in a poorly run hospital, while he also tries to carry on a forbidden romantic relationship.

To give you an idea of just how forbidden it is, E.S. and his lover (Manal Khader) have to arrange clandestine meetings that take place in a car, parked at the checkpoint between Jewish-occupied Jerusalem and the Palestinian stronghold Ramallah.

Though that might sound a bit formulaic, Suleiman's plotting is actually refreshingly original. In addition to the two main story lines, there's also some weirdness here about Palestinian road rage and misunderstandings involving mass transit.

The results are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and in other places are head-scratchingly weird, including a slapstick bit about a target that suddenly comes to life and turns into an Arab ninja.

And to be honest, that last bit could be accused of being somewhat anti-Semitic (the Israeli soldier characters the ninja slays are particularly buffoonish). However, it's the exception and not the rule here.

"Divine Intervention" is not rated but would probably receive an R for violence, occasional use of strong sexual profanity and vulgar sexual slang terms, as well as scattered use of ethnic slurs. Running time: 92 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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