‘Divine Intervention’ one of the best Arabic-language films ever made

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Elia Suleiman’s character in the movie ‘Divine Intervention’ utters not a single line. (Photo supplied)
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Elia Suleiman’s character in the movie ‘Divine Intervention’ utters not a single line. (Photo supplied)
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Elia Suleiman’s character in the movie ‘Divine Intervention’ utters not a single line. (Photo supplied)
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Elia Suleiman’s character in the movie ‘Divine Intervention’ utters not a single line. (Photo supplied)
Updated 25 August 2018
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‘Divine Intervention’ one of the best Arabic-language films ever made

DUBAI: Stylistically, “Divine Intervention” might be painted in distinctly international art-house hues, but it’s a movie that could only have been made in Palestine.
Upon its release in 2002, its bristling brand of black comedy was recognized with serious cinema’s greatest honors: a Palme d’Or nomination – and Jury Prize win – at the Cannes Film Festival. But when Hollywood’s awards season rolled around later that year, the film’s beguiling Kafkaesque roadblocks came off the screen and onto the ballot form, with Oscar judges reportedly ruling the first entry from the then-unrecognized state as ineligible.
This sorry tale alone might have secured a certain notoriety, but cannot alone explain the canonical renown of director/star Elia Suleiman’s best-known picture. When in 2013 the Dubai International Film Festival polled nearly 500 film critics, writers and scholars to compile a definitive list of the 100 most important Arabic-language films ever made, “Divine Intervention” was the only movie from this century to make the top 10 – and one of only three post-2000 entries in the top 30 (the third of which was Suleiman’s 2009 picture “The Time That Remains.”)
Tellingly, today “Divine Intervention” is among just a handful of the anointed list’s entries readily available on DVD with English subtitles. It’s a largely plotless, absurdist portrait of life under occupation in his native Nazareth, and Suleiman’s studious cinematic referencing and ironic wit feel tailor-made for the liberal international intelligentsia.
Like a tone poem or meditative montage, bleakly comic set pieces unfold with stoic detachment: A villager lines up glass bottles ready to throw at police. Santa Claus is stabbed to death. Thwarted lovers meet to furtively hold hands at a border checkpoint. A female Arab ninja takes down a crew of gun-toting commandos.
Comparisons abound to Jacques Tati and Jim Jarmusch and, like the latter, Suleiman has a keen sense of juxtaposing incongruous images with existing music – the soundtrack of “Divine Intervention” namechecks Arab talents from vintage legend Mohammed Abdel Wahab to contemporary superstar Amr Diab and indie heroes Soapkills.
Dialogue is in short supply: Suleiman’s character ES – surely a nod to Kafka’s K – utters not a single line. Instead, his actions speak loudest when releasing a helium balloon bearing Yasser Arafat’s face to float over Jerusalem – which dumbstruck Israeli soldiers farcically debate shooting down.


With Saudi roots and an Indian heart, Al-Kazi is an act the stage will never forget

Ebrahim Al-Kazi. (Social media)
Updated 21 February 2019
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With Saudi roots and an Indian heart, Al-Kazi is an act the stage will never forget

  • Though an icon in India, few people know about Al-Kazi’s Saudi roots

JEDDAH: India has always been a hub of art and culture. Over the last century, movies emerged as the most expressive cultural medium, and the Indian film industry — commonly known as Bollywood — has since become a powerhouse of world cinema.

One can never do its history justice without mentioning Ebrahim Al-Kazi.

A renowned director and drama teacher, he worked as the director of the prestigious New Delhi-based National School of Drama (NSD) from 1962 to 1977, teaching many well-known future actors and fellow directors, including Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and Rohini Hattangadi. He also founded the Art Heritage Gallery in New Delhi.

Though an Indian icon, however, few people know about Al-Kazi’s Saudi roots. His father, Hamad bin Ali Al-Kazi, was a trader from Unaiza in the Kingdom’s Qassim region, who subsequently settled in Pune, India, where Ebrahim was born in 1925. 

Early on in his career, Al-Kazi worked with the Bombay Progressive Artists Group, which included M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, Akbar Padamsee and Tyeb Mehta, who would all later contribute to the design of his sets.

He worked in India, the US and Europe before becoming the director of the NSD, and later of the Asian Theater Institute, and is credited with staging more than 50 plays in his lifetime. He also contributes to the preservation of Indian cultural history through his Al-Kazi Foundation for the Arts.

In February 2015, Al-Kazi was honored at the second Saudi Film Festival in Dammam. He was later quoted in Arab media sources on his Saudi upbringing: “Our father was a firm believer in our cultural roots that went back to Saudi Arabia, and we spoke only Arabic at home. We had a teacher of Arabic and Islamic studies who came from Saudi Arabia, and lived as part of our family.

“Arab families (in India) did not mix very much with others, but my father had close ties with people other than Arabs,” he added.

Al-Kazi has also won many prestigious Indian awards. He was the first recipient of Roopwedh Pratishthan’s Tanvir Award in 2004 for his contribution to Indian theater, and in 1966 received the Padma Shri award. He won the Padma Bhushan award in 1991, and was given India’s second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2010.