Palestinian Absurdism in the Wake of Oslo


The provocative second feature by the talented Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman might equally have been called Human Frustration. This comedy of hanging out desperately wants to make something happen but despairs that anything ever will. Conceived in the warily optimistic aftermath of the Oslo Accords, Suleiman’s first feature was titled Chronicle of a Disappearance and concerned his own dislocated return to Israel after a dozen years in New York. Like Chronicle, Divine Intervention has no narrative. Events, sometimes reduced to gags, unfold as a distanced series of bada-boom sketches and vaudeville turns. The emptied-out mise-en-scéne and precise compositions, usually framed by a static camera in middle shot, create a theater of absurdity. Because the deadpan director appears as himself, his movies have elements of psychodrama, as well as silent comedy. A movie of long, expressive silences, Divine Intervention articulates things that have never been articulated, at least on the screen. Suleiman is a self-identified Palestinian but he appears neither nationalist nor Marxist. He may have been raised a Christian but he is hardly fundamentalist. He’s a man of reason. What is more superfluous than Suleiman’s daydreams of vengeance in a country where they are daily enacted? Except insofar as this elegant farce reflects a deep human tragedy, the title Divine Intervention may not even be ironic.