By Natalie Gadbois, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 16, 2013
What drives people to sacrifice themselves for causes that don’t directly affect them? Where does the violent passion come from that incites people to perform unspeakable acts of violence? Are all terrorists psychopaths? Or is there always another, more complex explanation? “The Attack” delicately delves into these questions, and the result is a bare portrayal of a woman conflicted and the man who loved her.
More like this
Amin Jafaari (Ali Suliman, “Under the Same Sun”) is a Palestinian surgeon living in Tel Aviv — well respected and accepted by the Jewish society that surrounds him. Soon after the film begins, a suicide bomb detonates close to his hospital, killing 17 and injuring countless victims who are rushed to his operating room. His efficiency and dignity are evident as he saves life after life, only stopping when an injured Israeli man screams that he does not want Amin — an Arab — as his doctor.
Hours later, exhausted and beleaguered, Amin discovers that his wife Sahim (Reymond Amsalem, “Plasticine”) was found dead in the attack. We see her body bluntly torn in two, her torso lying meekly under a sheet in the morgue. And as Amin pulled shrapnel from children, his wife’s body was floors below him, being identified as the perpetrator of the attack.
Director and screenwriter Ziad Douieri (“Lila Says”) doesn’t spend much time establishing Jaafari’s uniquely privileged world before it is explosively disassembled, so he uses flashbacks in Amin’s gold-tinged memory to create his wife, Sahim. Douieri worked as a cameraman for Quentin Tarantino, and his tutelage shows, each shot perfectly framing the before and after of Amin’s life. Sahim, a liberal Palestinian, is for the majority of the film a beautiful enigma, defined by her soulful glances and overly scripted declarations against Israel. As Amin searches for answers, we sense that he is discovering just as we are: The question becomes not about Sahim’s innocence, but one of Amin himself. How could he love her so deeply yet know nothing of the dark resentments beneath her beautiful face?
The film masquerades as being marked by contrasts: shiny Tel Aviv with archaic Palestine; Amin’s granite-countered, stainless-steeled mansion with his humble birthplace; Sahim the dream girl vs. Sahim the mass murderer. However, all these distinctions mask the real ambiguity of the film, as Amin unravels the real complexity of Sahim’s political beliefs.
Suliman shines as Jaafari, using masculine brevity to portray the pillar of strength he was before the attack. He shows Amin’s anguish through subtle gestures: a downturned head, a blank stare that lasts a second too long. These little actions are often drowned out by the script’s creative view of what “grief” is. Amin constantly imagines the living memory of his wife standing next to him, a faltering attempt to build her character without using flashbacks. The film is strongest when Amin bares everything — his anger, confusion and all-consuming grief — but it sometimes drifts into symbolic theatrics.
Amin is interrogated, he is pitied, he is rejected from a society that once granted him special access, and at the same time distanced from his birthplace because he betrayed them so long ago. He is a man who once had everything: a beautiful wife, fulfilling career, wealth and most importantly, a valued place in a society that normally doesn’t accept people like him.
While “The Attack” gracefully examines how Amin reacts when his entire life is upended, it focuses on the reasons someone like Sahim would throw it all away, sacrificing her life and countless others to a cause she can’t even admit to her husband. “The Attack” is powerful, and while its consequences linger, the audience never fully understands the most burning question: Who is Sahim Jaafari?