‘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

‘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.

Cirque du Soleil in Saudi Arabia: The perfect tribute to a rich culture

Crique du Soleil in Riyadh. (Arab News)
Updated 50 min 16 sec ago

Cirque du Soleil in Saudi Arabia: The perfect tribute to a rich culture

  • Crique du Soleil created a spectacular show in Riyadh for the national day
  • They paid tribute to the Saudi culture and heritage

RIYADH: The circus — a place that is almost synonymous with joy and delight. Since time immemorial, circuses have been places of celebration and glee, and few as much as the premier name in the industry: Cirque du Soleil.

The show has had a devoted fan in me since 2006, when I attended a performance of their production “Quidam” and my definition of the word “circus” was turned upside-down. Their unique approach to art, performance, costumes and music has secured their status as a household name and a benchmark for all other circus shows to be measured against.

On Sunday night, Saudi Arabia’s National Day, the circus brought their incredible acrobatics to Riyadh’s King Fahad Stadium and it turned out to be a night to remember.

Prior to the event, Cirque’s Vice President of Creation Daniel Fortin offered little in the way of spoilers but hinted that we would see something the likes of which we never had before. With the promises of exclusive new acts, music, costumes and stage tricks piquing my excitement, I joined a throng of green-and white-clad spectators flooding the stadium. Performing to a sold-out crowd, the show kicked off at exactly 8.30 p.m. and the magic truly began.

Barely five minutes into the show, something stole over me as I settled into the rhythm of the music, something I saw flickering over the faces of those in the crowd around me: Recognition. We were seeing ourselves, our identity, echoed back at us, but with a twist. We saw ourselves through someone else’s eyes — someone respectful and admiring.

As a Saudi youth today, it has become an unfortunately common occurrence to face negativity from various outsiders, born of ignorance or fear. It has become dreary and repetitive to have to continually defend my people and my culture from those who have no wish to understand us.

But at this show? I saw my country once more through the eyes of an outsider, but this time, it was different. I saw my culture and my heritage lauded, celebrated, delicately fused with that tangible Cirque du Soleil flair. The attention to detail was careful, almost loving, but also daring and outlandish. It was a glorious fusion of classic Saudi aesthetics with the ethereal, bizarre beauty of Cirque du Soleil.

The symbolism was not always obvious, sometimes it was subtle, constrained to the beat of a drum or hidden in a snatch of song. Other times, it was blatant and bold, in the sloping hump of an elegantly clumsy camel costume, or the billowing of the Bedouin Big Top in the gentle breeze. And yet, unmistakeably, I felt the Saudi influences in every note of the performance. It felt like an homage, and yet it did nothing to diminish its own identity. It remained unquestionably a Cirque du Soleil performance, only below the usual circus frippery, there was a ribbon of something else that lay coiled beneath the surface. Something bright, vibrant green. Saudi green.

The spectacle rounded off with an astonishing display of fireworks, so plentiful that for a moment, the sky glowed bright as day. To me, each one felt like a promise fulfilled. A dream achieved. A miracle witnessed. Here, on my own home soil, it was the perfect tribute to a rich and vivid culture.