Criminal or Heroine: A Terrible Marital Secret Makes Doueiri’s Return A Profound Statement
There is a scene in Ziad Doueiri’s latest film in which a priest and the film’s protagonist discuss two very disturbing realities about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One is a man for whom Israel has meant a place where his life has come to fruition, while the other is the voice of many more who live afflicted by the lack of national identity and tangible freedom. The Attack is a complex story that though it revolves around the well-known discrepancies between the two parties involved, is not a political film. It instead focuses on the emotional scarring and motivations of the people who have to live with the consequences of their leaders’ decisions.
Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is a surgeon who saves Jewish and Arab lives alike everyday. His life in Tel Aviv as a successful Arab doctor exemplifies the fragile facade of tolerance; one that is easily broken in the aftermath of a suicide bombing that takes the lives of over a dozen people, 11 of them children. Returning home after the chaotic scene at the hospital, Amin finds his wife has yet to return from a trip she took to Nazareth for which she missed an award ceremony in his honor. An event seemingly unimportant at first but which resonates as the layers of her unspoken convictions start to peel away.
Awaken in the middle of the night; Amin perception of his wife is brutally shaken when he is called to identify her body, which is the body of the prime suspect responsible for the fatal explosion. What follows is a stage of ravaging denial. He is unable to grasp the horror that implicates him as the husband of a suicide bomber, and even as the interrogations aim to break him into confession he stands tall upholding his wife Sihab’s innocence.
Doueiri unravels a mystery on the style of Denis Villeneuve’s 2010 Incendies in which two brothers must understand their mother’s past as a war prisoner by going back to where it all started. As in that film, there is a letter here too, one that takes Amin into his own past in the Palestinian territory where he finds himself an outcast. That’s certainly one of the most indelible points the film makes, the torn existence that Amin realizes he has been living, and which is only unveiled after the tragic events occurred.
Back at home in Israel he has lost the trust of those who once claimed to be his friends; his house is vandalized because his wife’s actions now have come to define him as a radical by association. Such social punishment can only be compared to what the families of mass shooters in the Western world must endure, as it is depicted in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin. Like Amin, they are left behind to figure out the reasoning behind their loved ones’ action, and must forever carry the stigma of something they didn’t commit. His confusion is only maximized as he walks the streets of the occupied land looking for answers and finds instead that what his wife did is idolized as just and holy.
Where can Amin go from here? Where could he ever find peace or security if he is caught up in middle of too fundamentalist visions? What about the betrayal, the enduring feeling of never fully knowing why will forever chase him. This is the story of man trying to piece together the unbearable secret that took his wife’s life. Her martyrdom or murderous act, depending on which side of the territories he is standing, leaves him wondering about how much he really new her and what his position in the conflict is.
Presented with a beautiful contemplative tone, The Attack is not fast to pass judgment on either point of view. Doueiri’s delicate screenplay based on the novel by Yasmina Khadra comes to life via the outstanding performance by Suliman, whose character experiences a devastating transition from loving husband to enraged victim, a victim of circumstances he cant control. This is perhaps the most humanistic take on the never-ending conflict to ever be presented on the screen, definitely an important and compelling film.