Title: The Attack
Cohen Media Group
Director: Ziad Doueiri
Screenwriter: Ziad Doueiri, Joëlle Touma
Cast: Ali Suliman, Reymond Amsellem, Yevgenya Dodina, Uri Gavriel, Karim Saleh, Dvir Benedek, Rula Salameh
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 5/30/13
Opens: June 21, 2013
If memory serves, “The Attack” is the only Israeli-Palestinian film hitting American shores that delves into the problems of being an assimilated Arab in Tel Aviv, well-respected by those in the country’s most important hospital for services as a surgeon. What at first appears to be the most important issue is whether a suicide bombing in Israeli’s largest city, killing seventeen people including eleven children, is the work of the doctor’s own wife—a possibility that had never entered his mind and which leads him into denial. Writer-director Ziad Doueiri is more interested in exploring the tragic consequences of the bombing not so much on the innocent victims as on the surgeon himself. Doueiri takes us from Tel Aviv—which like Shanghai and Beijing has changed immensely in massive construction, its skyscrapers filmed from the air capturing a metropolis that could pass for New York—into the more “old town” look (to put it gently) of the predominantly Arab town of Nablus.
Although the film opens on a scene that might convince us that Doueiri is lauding the Jewish community in Tel Aviv for conferring on an Arab the highest honor that a doctor can receive, the director soon plunges into a what he perhaps considers on the minds of most inhabitants of the West Bank: that the Jewish government, through the tough Shin Bet officers, the Israeli guards at border checkpoints, and the hideous wall cutting the West Bank from Israeli proper, is nothing more than a repressive force denying Palestinians the dignity of their own country.
One day after receiving the medical equivalent of an American Oscar in a large ceremony, Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) hears an explosion and is shocked to be called to a morgue to identify the remains of his wife Siham (Reymond Ansallem), whom he assumes had been killed in a terrorist attack while stopping at the ill-fated restaurant. Having been questioned severely by a Shin Bet officer after the doctor has been incarcerated as a probable accessory to the crime, Amin realizes that his wife had not only perpetrated what he considers a monstrous act but had in addition betrayed him by hiding a secret life that she had been leading with a radical group in Nablus under a fire-and-brimstone sheikh and two other individuals whom he would never suspect of revolutionary fervor.
Though he receives friendly assistance from a small group of co-workers in the hospital particularly a Russian colleague (Evgenia Dodina), his home in the upscale suburb of Herzlia is vandalized and “child killer” graffiti painted on the walls outside. Going to Nablus to discover who “manipulated” his wife, he questions those who may have information, only to discover that as an “Uncle Tom” who has forsaken his roots, he is not welcome in the West Bank, his wife’s martyrdom notwithstanding.
A strong performance form Ali Suliman, fluent in Hebrew and Arabic, anchors the wrenching tale, which provides regular flashbacks into the doctor’s courting of the woman who became his wife, scenes that make you wonder how people who seem so innocent and loving can betray those who have given them so much love and comfort. The movie is aided largely by cinematographer Tommaso Fiorilli’s shots of ultra-modern Tel Aviv, contrasting the metropolis with the much poorer cousin in Nablus.
Director Douieri has been known primarily for “West Beirut,” a 1998 film of the civil war in Lebanon in 1975 which resulted in a partition of the capital into Muslim-Christian sectors. Ali Suliman, who appears in virtually every frame, is a Nazareth-born actor who attended the prestigious Yoram Levinishtain acting school in Tel Aviv in is perhaps best known for his role as Khaled in Hany Abu-Assad’s 1995 “Paradise Now,” about a pair of twins recruited for a suicide mission.
The film is in Hebrew and Arabic, adapted for the screen from Yasmina Khadra’s 257-page best-selling novel “The Attack,” translated into English from the French, available from Amazon for $12.38.
Rated R. 102 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+