You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: Divine Intervention

Always imaginative, often arresting, but sometimes just too clever by half, "Divine Intervention" is a movie of memorable moments rather than a cohesive, involving feature.

With: Elia Suleiman, Manal Khader, Nayef Fahoum Daher, George Ibrahim, Georges Khleifi, Avi Kleinberger. (Arabic and Hebrew dialogue)

Always imaginative, often arresting, but sometimes just too clever by half, “Divine Intervention” is a movie of memorable moments rather than a cohesive, involving feature. A collection of character vignettes hung around the story of two Palestinians who tryst by an Israeli checkpoint, this second feature by Palestinian director Elia Suleiman observes life under Israeli “occupation” with a festering resentment dulled by an emigre’s detached irony.


Subtitled “A Chronicle of Love and Pain,” pic is tailor-made for Western festivals and special programs, where movie buffs and the political intelligentsia will nod approvingly at its sophisticated wit, its filmic references and its bold cinematic strokes. Compared with the two other films from the same region at Cannes this year, “Divine Intervention” at least has some kind of passion and a recognizable political viewpoint, unlike Amos Gitai’s ponderously artsy, middle-of-the-road “Kedma.” However, unlike fellow Palestinian Hany Abu-Assad’s “Rana’s Wedding,” with its fully drawn characters and involving structure, Suleiman’s pic is more like a cinematic scrapbook.


In fact, the first three reels, set in Suleiman’s hometown of Nazareth, are virtually a Middle East version of Otar Iosseliani’s recent “Monday Morning,” with a succession of almost-silent vignettes that build into a rondo of eccentricity. A man dressed as Father Christmas is chased up a hill by some youths; another man waits for a bus that isn’t coming; another stacks empty bottles on his roof and later uses them to hurl at the police; and another throws his garbage sacks into a neighbor’s garden.


This opening is also not so far from that of Suleiman’s previous feature, “Chronicle of a Disappearance” (1996), and though often very witty in its payoffs, is just starting to pall when helmer pulls an explosive surprise that sets the pic on a more overtly political tack. Suleiman himself plays E.S., first seen motoring to a hospital where his father (Nayef Fahoum Daher), one of the characters in the preceding section, is recovering from a heart attack.


Switching locations to the Al-Ram checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, Suleiman then pulls another jaw-dropping set piece, as he introduces E.S.’s girlfriend (Manal Khader), a stunner who can literally topple the towers of war. She’s from Ramallah and he’s from Jerusalem, so the two meet in a parking lot next to the checkpoint and silently caress hands while they (and the audience) observe the goings-on.


The couple’s meetings — like the plot device in “Rana’s Wedding” of having to get married by 4 p.m. — are simply an excuse for a succession of checkpoint sequences, which show the Israeli soldiers as either half-wits or bullies. The Palestinian sweethearts simply stare blankly at events as they unwind, with a kind of mute condemnation.


“Mute” is, in fact, the operative word for the film, which is largely made in the spirit of a modern silent movie. Imagine Jacques Tati tackling the Palestinian problem, and you’re halfway there. Sometimes, Suleiman’s ideas work spectacularly well — as in the sequence of a red balloon festooned with Yasser Arafat’s smiling face floating across the Jerusalem cityscape and coming to rest on the Omar Mosque, a Muslim holy of holies.


Other times, his flights of fantasy seem to belong to a separate movie — as in one f/x extravaganza of a Palestinian female ninja taking on a bunch of gun-carrying Israeli commandos. However, in both that and the balloon sequence, CGI effects work is top drawer.


Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the most effective, as when E.S. tries to stare down an Israeli in an adjacent auto while Arab music blares out of his car stereo. Such moments of suppressed, helpless rage — expressed by the wild, emotional music — are among the most powerful in the pic.


At the end of the day, however, as in “Chronicle,” Suleiman proves an adept, often very witty cataloguer of contradictions and foibles but remains an armchair raconteur with no cohesive arguments of his own. “Divine Intervention” is an entertaining, good-looking confection that pushes all the right buttons for sympathizers of the Palestinian cause without actually getting its hands dirty. Perfect fare for Euro fests, in fact.

Film Review: Divine Intervention

Competing / France-Morocco-Germany

Production: A Pyramide release (in France) of an Ognon Pictures, Arte France Cinema, Gimages Films (France)/Soread 2M (Morocco)/Lichtblick (Germany) production. (International sales: Flach Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Produced by Humbert Balsan. Co-producer, Elia Suleiman. Directed, written by Elia Suleiman.

Crew: Camera (color), Marc-Andre Batigne; editor, Veronique Lange; art directors, Miguel Markin, Denis Renault, Samir Sruji; sound (Dolby SRD), Eric Tisserand, Williams Schmit. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 19, 2002. Running time: 92 MIN.

With: With: Elia Suleiman, Manal Khader, Nayef Fahoum Daher, George Ibrahim, Georges Khleifi, Avi Kleinberger. (Arabic and Hebrew dialogue)

More Film

  • The Favourite Black Panther

    Audience for Best Picture Nominees Most Diverse in Years, Report Shows

    Theatergoers for Academy Awards best picture-nominated films have become younger and more diverse over the past four years, a report released exclusively to Variety showed. Movio, which specializes in cinema marketing data analytics, said the changes in demographic shifts correspond to the best picture lineup becoming more diverse since the 2015 Oscars, when the #OscarsSoWhite [...]

  • Emma Thompson

    Emma Thompson Exits Skydance Animation Movie 'Luck' Over John Lasseter Hire

    Emma Thompson has dropped out of the voice cast of Skydance Animation’s upcoming film “Luck,” a spokesperson for the actress told Variety. The beloved British star did some recording for the project, but dropped out in January, following John Lasseter’s hire to the top animation job at David Ellison’s studio, an insider close to the [...]

  • Daniel Kaluuya Lakeith Stanfield

    Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield in Talks to Star in Film About Black Panther Party Leader

    Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are in negotiations to star in the historical drama “Jesus Was My Homeboy” about Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. The project is set up at Warner Bros. with “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler producing along with Charles King through his Marco production company. Executive producers are Sev Ohanian, Zinzi [...]

  • Watch First Trailer for Motley Crue

    Watch First Trailer for Motley Crue Biopic 'The Dirt'

    Netflix has dropped the first trailer for its Motley Crue biopic “The Dirt” — based on Neil Strauss’ best-selling history of the legendarily bad-behaved ‘80s metal icons — and it looks like the film pulls no punches in terms of the band’s famously sordid history. In this two-minute trailer, we get glimpses of singer Vince [...]

  • ‘Tomorrow and Thereafter,’ ‘Diane Has the

    MyFrenchFilmFestival Prizes ‘Tomorrow and Thereafter,’ ‘Diane Has the Right Shape’

    Actress-director Noémie Lvovsky’s “Tomorrow And Thereafter,” a heartfelt homage to the director’s own mother, and Fabien Gorgeart’s “Diane Has the Right Shape,” about one woman’s surrogate motherhood, both won big at the 2019 UniFrance MyFrenchFilmFestival which skewed female in its winners and viewership, making particularly notable inroads into South East Asia and Latin America. Opening [...]

  • Vue International Chief Slams BAFTA For

    Vue International Chief Slams BAFTA for Awarding Prizes to 'Roma'

    Tim Richards, the founder and chief executive of Vue International, one of the largest cinema chains in Europe, has slammed the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for awarding prizes to Netflix’s “Roma.” Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white film, which is also up for several Oscars, won four BAFTAs at the awards ceremony in London on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content