PARIS: Elia Suleiman, the Nazareth-born author of ‘Divine Intervention’, has been awarded the International Critics Prize for his masterwork, one of the shining lights of this year’s 55th annual Cannes Film Festival.

He also happens to be the first Palestinian film-maker to present a film in competition at Cannes, during a festival top-heavy with films devoted to sombre and generally pessimistic themes.

“But not surprisingly,” observes Festival director Thierry Fremaux, “because the films reflect the state of the world as it is today.”

And, he continues, “you have to admit that not all is going well in the world these days, which is why it was inevitable that this year’s festival would be more political, inevitably more pessimistic.”

But, Suleiman, who was born in 1960, and learnt his film-making craft during a three-year stint spent in the United States, won the coveted critics prize.

And this in large part because the film — which is a French-Moroccan-German coproduction — is hardly pessimistic at all.

Writes Le Figaro film critic Marie-Noelle Tranchant, in her laudatory review of ‘Divine Intervention’, “everybody seems to have a fixed idea of what is going on in Jerusalem and in Nazareth, but Suleiman’s film sweeps away those grave and distant images fraught with violence and piety, and does so with a welcome gust of fresh air.”

As she notes, “the author, who was born in Nazareth and has lived in Jerusalem, goes back and forth between these two mythical locations with the familiarity of a local child, certainly in despair, but nevertheless remains mischievous, seemingly forever a prankster at heart. His previous film, also a master work, Chronicle of a Disappearance, certainly didn’t prepare us for this kind of film, but you have to admit that Suleiman has a sense of the burlesque, a real talent in the genre.”

Indeed, the lead character who holds together this film, a series of vignettes, of daily incidents, sometimes of a banal appearance, but always accorded a magical quality by the director’s magic wand, is played by no less a personage than Suleiman himself.

He travels between Nazareth, where his sickly father lives, and Jerusalem, where he regularly passes by the Israeli checkpoint which blocks his way to Ramallah where lives the woman he loves, who takes on a dream-like quality in her own right, for everything about this film is dreamlike.

It has something about it akin to the films of such classic directors of dream-films as Rene Clair, Jean Cocteau and Luis Bunuel, although with none of the absurdity, none of the black pessimism.

Also, he notes quite interestingly, “I am not a documentary film-maker and I believe, for one, that the sensationalism of the media (with regard to Palestine) doesn’t serve either justice or the truth.” So much for the traditional gory and disturbing images of this part of the world conveyed in the news magazines almost nightly the past several months.

As for any black pessimism that the film may evoke, if there is a colour that predominates in ‘Divine Intervention’, it is hardly black, but more appropriately red.

But also that they can be poets, for if Suleiman can be characterized as anything, it’s much more as a poet than as a director, in the sense that the poet, much more than the ordinary director of commercial films, doesn’t have to fabricate the truth, for he knows where to find it, just by looking about himself, for example in the streets of that part of the world which he knows best because that is where he grew up.

To borrow the words of French painter Henri Matisse, “his greatness lies in his ability to make us see like the child who opens up his eyes and looks upon the world for the very first time.”

Opinion

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