Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Attack

Director Ziad Doueiri frames "The Attack" through the lens of Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman), a highly accomplished surgeon of Palestinian descent living and working in Tel Aviv where, as the movie opens, he is to receive a prestigious award for his medical practice.
He wanted his wife, Siham, to be with him, but she told him she had to return to the territories to attend to a family matter. His lunch the next day is interrupted by the sound of an explosion across town. There has been a suicide bombing at a restaurant, and 19 people, including 11 children, have died. The emergency room fills with the critically injured, including one Israeli who (in a jarring moment) demands a different doctor; he'd rather die than be operated on by an Arab.

After a long night of work, Amin showers and retires to bed, only to be awakened by a strange call from a colleague. Come back to the hospital, he is told, but drive carefully: "There is plenty of time." When he gets there, he asks where the patient is. There is no patient, his colleague tells him, handing him over to a police investigator. Come with me, the cop says, leading him to the morgue, I need you to identify the body of the suicide bomber - your wife.

It's a fascinating set-up for a character study. Amin spends the first half of the movie denying (mostly to himself; the cops have no doubt) that Siham was the bomber. In the second half, he leaves Tel Aviv and drives to the territories to ask her family and friends - and a popular imam who views her as a hero - what made her turn. Answers prove elusive and those offered to him (anger at a particular Israeli bombing) feel unsatisfying. Why would a happily married Palestinian woman perform such an inhuman act? Only the obvious truth, however politically incorrect, remains.

"The Attack" reaches the height of its power in a handful of scenes: Amin finally corners the imam (his followers repeatedly threw him out of the mosque, fearing he was working for Shin Bet), who calls Amin a "perfectly assimilated Arab" (in other words, an Uncle Tom) and tells him there's no point in their talking; they'll never see things the same way. A colleague in Tel Aviv stood behind him when others assumed he had been involved in the bombing, but she now demands of him (reasonably enough) a certain degree of allegiance to Israel he finds it difficult to muster. The character study we started out thinking would be of Siham turns out to be of Amin, and more compelling for it.

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