Published Aug 01, 2013In structure, Ziad Doueiri's controversial, politically touchy drama-cum-thriller, The Attack, plays on perspective. It's a tough balancing act, trying to edify an audience via character awakening without resorting to didacticism or overly glib, patronizing conclusions. But Doueiri (who most Westerners might know as Quentin Tarantino's first assistant camera operator, prior to moving back to Lebanon just after 9/11) does his best to ensure every side depicted in this exploration of the Israel-Palestine conflict has a voice.
He starts his story in Tel Aviv, where Arab doctor Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) is receiving accolades for his work from his liberal Jewish peers. Within this vacuum, where Amin has been accepted by his unspoken assimilation and acquiescence to political ignorance, there's a sense of progressive behaviour, much like any nascent form of diversification, where a majority embraces a minority, as long as they adhere to a social, communal idea of normalcy and contrived morality.
Before long, Amin learns that his wife, whom he assumed was visiting her Grandfather in Nazareth, might have been the suicide bomber that hit a local cafe. Quickly, his life is turned upside down when police hold him for questioning, throwing out threats and accusations about his allegiance, ripping his presumed freedoms away from him while demonstrating the casual racism associated with panic and self-preservation.
Rather than stop here, with Israeli police defining Palestinian bombers as deluded schizophrenics that don't know any better, Amin becomes an ersatz-detective, travelling to the other side of the wall, where he learns of other associations his wife had and how she came to align with this political cause.
Though framed with gritty noir aesthetics and seedy underbelly revelations, very little about Amin's journey comes as a surprise or holds much tension. Despite occasional danger arising once Arab community leaders label Amin a sycophantic traitor, it's a great deal of dry, overly preachy and familiar exposition about the nature of subjugation and the rationale for praising martyrdom. While it's vital to this story to understand how both sides feel, there's very little to say about the subject cinematically that hasn't been reiterated previously, to the point of redundancy.
What Doueiri has here, implicitly, is a confounding, potentially charged psychological character piece about a man trying to understand the secret life of his wife. How their mindset differed and how he could miss such an identity defining distinction about the woman he loves (perhaps what he subconsciously loves is her bravado and contrary passion) could easily propel an emotionally draining and comprehensive story, paralleling human relationships with a bigger political conflict.
Instead, Doueiri limits deeper examinations of their relationship to a couple of cuddling and lovemaking flashbacks, and an obvious metaphor about wanting (or not wanting) children, leaving her motivations as fact-based tidbits without a great deal of dramatic heft. In trying to remain moderately balanced, providing a comprehensive look at the reactive and proactive behaviour on both sides of the wall, he's eliminated much of the intrinsic human element necessary to add catharsis and investment to a familiar topic.
In fact, without the inherent controversy — it was banned by the Arab League in Doueri's home country and other Arab nations — it's unlikely The Attack would have drawn a great deal of interest. For all of its incendiary digging, this mystery is surprisingly banal and forgettable. (D Films)