“Divine Intervention” is a 2002 Palestinian film, introducing itself as a “story of love and pain,” and indeed, it holds true to this idea throughout the film. It begins as a long series of vignettes, showcasing various aspects of day-to-day life in Palestine. Some are monotonous – such as the man who, every day, opens his mail and smokes a cigarette – some are humorous – such as one old man’s fight to ensure that none of his neighbours are happy – and some are simply life. This is not a film that seeks to reinforce the traditional Western view of Palestine, but instead seeks to show that life is life, regardless of the circumstances in which it finds itself. The characters themselves look like ordinary people living in ordinary homes and driving ordinary – albeit slightly old – cars. The only exception to this is the Israeli characters, who are never portrayed as ordinary people, but as highly militarised people, either literally in a uniform, or at least wielding guns and shooting at women.
Of course, there is also very rarely a film about Palestine that does not in some incorporate Israel and the Israeli presence, and this film is no exception. At the heart of the film lies a love story between two lovers separated by an Israeli checkpoint. They meet every day and caress, watching the Israeli treatment of Palestinians and being content to be together. At times, their story becomes utterly absurd. At one point, for instance, to make his lover happy, the man (George Ibrahim) releases a balloon with a picture of Yasser Arafat’s face, sending it flying over Jerusalem, much to the chagrin of Israeli soldiers guarding the nearby checkpoint. At other points, the woman’s (Manal Khader) desire to be with her lover tears the checkpoint stopping her to shreds. It is, in many ways, a very surreal look at love and its power to overcome barriers.
At the same time, it shouldn’t be said that this film is either a gritty look at Palestine or a romanticised one. Elia Suleiman creates a view of Palestine that is surreal in its humour, but while presenting life itself as perfectly ordinary. It’s easy to imagine walking down the street and seeing some of these things, and the vision Suleiman presents is real to the point where the audience sometimes wonders why it was worth presenting at all. This idea that life in Palestine could ever be seen as “dull” is one of the film’s greatest triumphs. Its view is that this is ordinary, checkpoints, dancing policemen, and all.
On the whole, the film’s lack of dialogue works both in its favour and against it. During some vignettes, it is entirely possible to wonder what exactly the point is and what is being shown to the point where the first half of the film can sometimes feel like it’s dragging on and on without end. There is a certain level of familiarity with Middle Eastern film and politics required to understand all of what’s being shown as well. However, the lack of dialogue in scenes with the lover or with the grumpy old man work entirely in the film’s favour, allowing the emotion of the scene and power of what isn’t being said carry the narrative and tell the story of these experiences.
Ultimately, though, this is a film about experiences. Its plot is largely non-existent, and its love story is not so much the story of two lovers as it is the greater love-hate story between Palestine and Israel. The story of the lovers, though, and their struggles against Israeli oppression is deeply emotional and at points, deeply moving, and presents an excellent analogy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is, from a Palestinian perspective, at least, an optimistic film, in which Israel and Palestine do have a chance at reconciliation, partly because of this need for one another. However, the ending also supports the idea that, if there must be war, Palestine can prevail because of the power of its love for its people and for its way of life. It is a film with utter faith in the people it represents and in the power of love and co-operation to overcome barriers.
In the end, this is an excellent film, albeit one best watched with at least a base familiarity with either Middle Eastern film or politics, or both. It tells a beautiful love story, but more than that, it tells a story of experiences that might otherwise never have been known.
January 24, 2003
1 hr. 32 min.
Elia Suleiman, Manal Khader, George Ibrahim