Over the years we have been treated to a wide variety of films that deal with political issues or oppressed peoples. Worthy though their sentiments are and as much as one may sympathise with the situations and injustices shown, preaching at an audience may tug the heartstrings but does not often provide entertainment. Enter Divine Intervention, Cannes smash (and Jury prize winner) melded with the controversial chic of allegedly ‘not being eligible for best foreign film Oscar’, and at last the dirge of worthiness has been exorcised.
Audiences normally expect some semblance of plot within a feature film, but that doesn’t really happen here. Divine Intervention unrolls as a series of vignettes, some reprised, which explain the pettiness and absurdity of life in Palestine far more than any structured character piece would allow. Suleiman wisely realises that humour is a far better weapon than outright vitriol, so although the film possesses both anger and aggression, these feelings are tempered by comedy. As with all humour the trick lies in the timing, which Suleiman executes impeccably. The pace varies from the excruciatingly slow to emphasise sheer absurdity (the man who regularly tips his rubbish into his neighbour’s garden and is indignant when she throws it back), the protracted (an apparently brutal beating is given a hysterical denouement after having seriously disturbed its audience) and the thoroughly unexpected (a carelessly discarded apricot stone has startling results). And amidst it all there’s a burgeoning love affair, a delicate and tender romance that blossoms with the passing of time… and takes place in the dusty car park opposite the check-point.
At times the film’s almost cringeworthy in its aimless outlets of aggression and frustration at the small cruelties of life. But these are very real frustrations and, as the film progresses, the message becomes more political as events become increasingly absurd and grandiose, culminating in a bravura piece of wish fulfilment that merges fantasy, wirework martial arts and CGI in a roundly enjoyable crowd pleasing manner. To reach this deliberately impossible fantasy we’ve had to endure the petty humiliations laid on at the check-point and a subversive mission that sees a red balloon with a picture of Yasser Arafat on it drift over the major sites of Jerusalem. (Needless to say, this later sequence was achieved by the use of special effects.) Of the film’s many highlights the most believably and depressingly stupid occurs when a tourist asks a soldier for directions to a local attraction – he is unsure but obliges the woman by dragging a bound, blindfolded prisoner from the back of his van and asks him for assistance.
Divine Intervention may lack a driving sense of coherence (indeed it strives to achieve this) but is caustic, relevant comedy at its finest. The film turns any flaws to its advantage at almost every turn and runs the gauntlet from minutia to large scale with infectious and consummate ease. It’s the most fun you’ll get from a desperate and miserable situation.