It Must Be Heaven
Stars: Elia Suleiman, Gael Garcia Bernal, Grégoire Colin, Nancy Grant, Kwasi Songui
Palestine writer-actor-director Suleiman’s latest, a deceptively slight globe-trotting series of absurdist sketches, set in Nazareth, Paris and New York, is a droll depiction of artistic exile as well as an exploration of what constitutes Palestinian identity.
In the film’s opening and most vividly allegorical and funny sequence, a bishop marches his flock to the church on the Easter parade in Nazareth only to find that his drunk assistant won’t let them in, much to the worshippers’ displeasure.
Later in Paris, Suleiman, playing a silent version of himself, is attempting to raise money for his next project. The producers express an interest but have a very fixed idea of what form a Palestinian film should take. A parade of tanks in the eerily deserted Paris streets serve as a reminder of his homeland’s travails.
He travels to New York where his friend, Gael Garcia Bernal playing himself, helps him pitch his project, a comedy about peace in the Middle East, to uncomprehending producers. Glimpses of assault rifles in the supermarket and armed police chasing a protestor holding a Palestinian flag remind him again of home.
The picture elegantly teases out the parallels and incongruities between his homeland and the places the director visits, while cocking a snook at the encroachment of militarism into everyday life and the inherent vanity of its enforcers.
Suleiman’s impassive heavy-lidded gaze and deadpan demeanour again brings to mind Buster Keaton, while the long takes and perfectly composed tableaux feel like a nod to Jacques Tati.
The wordless whimsy, which maybe for the director is the only current adequate response to the absurdities of the Palestinian situation, won’t be to all tastes, but those already on Suleiman’s wavelength will find much to enjoy. The ending can be read as either a celebration of resilience or a condemnation of indifference.
It Must Be Heaven is released on June 18th
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