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The Attack

If you’re going to make a film involving to any degree the Arab-Israeli conflicts in the Middle East, a mark of success will inevitably be condemnation from both sides of the fence. Director Ziad Doueiri reported to the Los Angeles Times that the Arab League called for all of its member states to boycott his film The Attack, ostensibly because the Lebanese production was partly filmed in Israel but more likely, in the director’s opinion, because it fails to demonize Israelis sufficiently for Arab tastes.

While reaction from the other side has not come from official quarters, any online message board about the film is filled with complaints that it is anti-Israeli and justifies terrorism.

All of this won’t help the film’s international box office, but at least Doueiri has the comfort of knowing that he did his best to add a voice of reason to a subject whose flames show no sign of burning out. Adapted from a popular novel by Yasmina Khadra (who, in an apt irony, was recently revealed to be a veteran Algerian army officer writing under a female pen name) The Attack is the story of Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman), an Arab surgeon living and practicing in Tel Aviv. We first see him receiving a prestigious award, and noting in his acceptance speech that while he is the first Arab to receive it, the differences between Jews and Arabs are quickly disappearing.

It’s a nice sentiment, but he is soon to find that those gulfs are far from closed. The next day he is called to operate on victims of a nearby bombing that killed 11 people, including seven children. One of the maimed survivors is a Jew who demands another doctor than this Arab.

But the worst comes when his wife, who he had thought was visiting her family, turns out to be one of the dead—and the suicide bomber who caused the attack.

Amin quickly discovers how weak the façade of his career is. Despite his reputation he is harshly interrogated as if he were a suspect, and efforts are made to deport him. And he is treated no better when he goes to Nablus to try to find out what led his wife, who he knew as an apolitical Christian, to this inconceivable deed.

On a political level, The Attack is a pessimistic film. Amin learns that a man who thinks he has remained above a divide is rejected by both sides. But Doueiri’s film is equally a poignant love story about the impossibility of fully knowing another person, no matter how close you may feel to them. It’s a story he tells with hypnotic, almost dreamlike tenderness, making excellent use of a floating handheld camera and a gently droning score. (The best way to describe his work may be to point out that he began his career as an assistant cameraman for five films by Quentin Tarantino, from whom he apparently learned how he did not want to make films.) Seen with an open mind, it’s an experience that gets under your skin in ways you won’t expect.

Watch the trailer for The Attack

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