Divine intervention - 25 September 2012
LIONS DEN, POMONA
Welcome to Nazareth. A man dressed as Santa Claus is pursued up and down its hills by a swarm of angry children, bleeding profusely from a knife wound. Such is the opening of Elia Suleiman's bitterly dark Divine Intervention, a series of sketches (the director refers to them as 'gags' or 'burlesques') portraying Israeli-Palestinian tensions. It's worth noting that the director is Palestinian, Nazareth is his hometown, the neighbors are portrayed as morose at best (and teetering on the brink of violence at worst), and the filmmaker portrays his surrogate self within the film, a character named E.S.
The freedom fighter transforms at one point into a cloaked ninja, beating the hell out of Israeli soldiers to a kitschy pop jingle. One of E.S.'s apricots also functions as a hand grenade, blowing up an enemy tank. A colorful balloon emblazoned with the picture of Yasser Arafat flies over an Israeli checkpoint unhindered. Any dream will do.
Those dreams are given brutal counterpoint by scenes of the Nazareth community, not following any particular character but drifting through the city like a labyrinth.
If there isn't much of a plot, there's something in Suleiman's order that feels right. E.S. is seen in the film arranging scenes for a screenplay he'd like to write, all yellow Post-Its on a wall. It's a useful way of viewing Divine Intervention as well -- sketches that compliment one another and build from that violent opening to queasy tension, with fleeting glimpses of hope and lots of angry laughter along the way.
Suleiman is critical of Nazareth, a ghetto where moral values have eroded to the point of near non-existence. Laughing at the callousness and cruelty of man, of one neighbor's inhumanity to the other, Suleiman uses his comedy as a way of digging under the skin. The film's subtitle is, after all, A Chronicle of Love and Pain.