Professionally successful & fully accepted by his Israeli friends, a prominent Palestinian surgeon (Ali Suliman) is shocked when his wife (Reymond Amsalem) chooses terrorism instead & dies as a suicide bomber. Leaving the now cold comfort of their home, Amin travels back in space & time to search for answers on the West Bank.
So much here! But alas, once again (just like in their 2004 film Lila Says), director Ziad Doueiri & screenwriter Joelle Touma have undermined an excellent actor by failing to give his partner a 3D role. Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku.
Directed by Ziad Doueiri
Screenplay by Doueiri & Joelle Touma
Based on a novel by Yasmina Khadra
Principal Cast: Ali Suliman with Reymond Amsalem
The Attack opens at the pinnacle of success. Even though he is a Palestinian Arab, “Amin Jaafari” (Ali Suliman) has become one of Israel’s most successful surgeons, and as he steps up onto the stage to receive a prestigious award, Amin sees nothing but calm seas and open vistas ahead. He couldn’t be more wrong. Within forty-eight hours, Amin’s entire world has imploded, leaving him to stare at himself and his surroundings with disbelief: What kind of fool believes he can willfully escape the insanity?
I walked into The Attack really wanting to love it, and the fact that I didn’t makes me sad. So let me start with the good news, because there is a lot to like in The Attack, and I definitely think you should see it even though it isn’t “perfect.”
First and foremost, The Attack is graced with a superlative performance by Ali Suliman. Much like Amin, Suliman has straddled the intractable battle line between Arabs and Israelis, slowly building his resume and perfecting his craft. I have seen him in Palestinian films (like Paradise Now and The Time That Remains), Israeli films (like Lemon Tree and The Syrian Bride), and American films (like Body of Lies and The Kingdom). He has always been incredibly handsome, but now, at the edge of middle age, he has learned to use his good looks in the service of the characters entrusted to him. On stage at the awards ceremony, Suliman presents us with an Amin filled with self-confidence, a man who simply has no doubts. But by the end, Suliman has stripped Amin of his ego. Yes, he will go on, but Amin will never be that man again.
Director Ziad Doueiri and his co-writer Joelle Touma have also created two dense and believable worlds for Amin to travel through. They have eliminated black and white, and filled their screen with rich layers of gray-on-gray. Of course, I mean this metaphorically; the film is in color (rural and urban landscapes equally well-captured by cinematographer Tommaso Fiorilli), and all the supporting characters are multidimensional. Amin has Israeli friends who obviously care for him as a person as well as a colleague, and so do his family members on the West Bank (especially his sister and his niece). But as Amin begins to question the foundations of his own life, they are forced to ask questions too. Has their trust been misplaced? Does he have any loyalties? Will he betray them? In the context of a conflict now older than anyone on screen, these are all honest questions that sensible people must ask.
So what’s the problem? The problem is Amin’s wife “Siham.” Like Ali Suliman, Reymond Amsalem is a very accomplished actress, someone I have seen onscreen many times. In fact, I named her “Best Actress” in my report on the 2009 Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema (ironic because in that role in Seven Minutes in Heaven Amsalem plays the victim of a terrorist bombing and in The Attack she plays the perpetrator). So I am sure Amsalem would have done a splendid job if only Doueiri and Touma had given her an actual character to play, but unfortunately Siham always remains a mystery–someone who’s motives are opaque–someone who’s actions make no sense.
The Attack is based on a novel by “Yasmina Khadra” (the pen name of an Algerian man whose real name is Mohammed Moulessehoul). I haven’t read it, so I don’t know if Moulessehoul had insight into Siham. All I can tell you for sure is that the Siham on screen has no core. And unfortunately I had this same reaction to Lila Dit Ca (Lila Says) another Doueiri/Touma collaboration from way back in 2004.
So I hope Doueiri and Touma will try again, and I hope that their third time at bat Doueiri and Touma will hit a home run. These excellent male characters they have created onscreen (Amin in The Attack and Chimo in Lila Says) deserve female counterparts who can make their dramatic arcs whole.
Top Photo: Reymond Amsalem as “Sihan” with Ali Suliman as “Amin.”
Middle & Bottom Photos: A grieving Amin seeks answers in the West Bank.
Photo Credits: Vered Adir/Cohen Media Group