Writer/producer/director Elia Suleiman’s “Divine Intervention” is a remarkably strong debut that lends itself to a nostalgic style foreign to many viewers. Extremely economical in his verbiage (giving himself an entirely silent role), wry in his comedy and at times surreal with his imagery, Suleiman endows a quirky comedy with strong Israeli-Palestinian underpinnings.
Suleiman’s unique approach takes some getting used to at first, though, as his methods are certainly unorthodox. “Intervention” commences with random vignettes of hostile neighbors in and around the city of Nazareth. Supposedly a humorous microcosm of the larger conflict that plagues the region, these scenes are simply comedic in their ability to showcase the common idiocy of particular people, the irrationality that allows such trivial skirmishes to escalate eventually to mutual hatred.
Soon hereafter, Elia introduces his character. Visiting his ailing father, he establishes a residence in Nazareth. He frequents the hospital there and ultimately meets a woman. They begin to see each other, but for security reasons, they are only able to meet at a guard station that divides their two locales, as she resides in the West Bank.
This apparently basic plotline is essentially what the entire film evolves from, which is a testament to Suleiman’s talent as a filmmaker – to make so much of seemingly so little.
Scenes at the hospital and with his lover at the guard station are strikingly funny and witty in their approach. For example, as Suleiman’s character is silent throughout, the extended scenes of him and his lover are executed without conversation. This is no easy feat, but Suleiman conquers it deftly. The couple does nothing more than hold hands while together, but with the camera focusing entirely on their paired hands and an oddly melodic jazz beat playing in the background, the scene becomes hilarious and uniquely engrossing.
His surrealist techniques are even more commendable. In a scene with his lover, Suleiman blows up a red balloon with Yasser Arafat’s face on it and releases it into the sky. The camera then tracks the balloon throughout the city’s environs, and the effect of this scene is simply indescribable. As mentioned with the handholding shots, it becomes a captivating pseudo-reality and removes you from the uneasiness of the situation.
These clips of comedy and surrealism comprise much of the film, but ultimately, they are just icing on the cake. “Intervention” is a lucid take on the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it should be commended as such. Suleiman is able to capture the psychology of the conflict in his techniques, which is in itself is remarkable.
All things said, Suleiman brings a comically innovative perspective to a seemingly endless struggle, and in doing so, he establishes a unique style that pays homage to the laconic flicks of yore yet innovates like few others. “Divine Intervention” may initially seem foreign, but given time, its subtle genius and skillful craftsmanship are fully revealed.
4 1/2 Stars