Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack might as well be considered as the most controversial “Lebanese” movie of recent times. But that’s not saying much. The hype surrounding the politics of the movie has been resounding. But does The Attack deliver on all the promises the director and the people who like him gave?
Amin (Ali Suliman) is an Arab-Israeli surgeon living and practicing medicine in Tel Aviv. While receiving some humanitarian award from the Israelis, Amin receives a call from his wife who sounds distressed. He doesn’t give it much attention, the focus is all on him. Soon enough, while having lunch at the rooftop of their Israeli hospital, the surgeons hear an explosion. 17 casualties ensue, 11 of which are children… And it’s Amin’s wife Siham (Raymond Amsalem) who committed the attack. Between the barrage of the Israelis who suddenly turn on the man they believe they sheltered into becoming one of them and the guard of the Arabs who believe Siham did a noble thing and are disgusted by the “bastard” who left his heritage and home to integrate in a place that is not his, Amin seeks out to find why his wife became a radical person who managed to get convinced to blow herself up for the Palestinian cause.
Sounds good, right? Well, in theory it does.
The Attack is divided into two parts. The first one is what can be called the Hebrew segment in which Tel Aviv is shown as a bustling cosmopolitan city whose people are as disassociated with the conflict raging outside their city’s confines while the other half is the Arab part, situated in Nablos, whose people struggle in their everyday life and revel in the idea of martyrdom, turning Siham into a local heroin. In a way, each part serves to pitch each side’s case.
I found the take on the issue, which the movie tries to do, shallow and borderline grating at times, even in its tackling of Siham’s radicalization which The Attack finds even more astonishing due to the fact she’s Christian. The Attack doesn’t go as deep as it should. it remains up there, flapping around the stereotypical stories of both sides – the action/reaction scenario that never ends. It never asks the tough questions: are the reactions warranted? Are they the best way to tackle the actions that led to them?
And I, for one, am glad and fully supportive of not choosing The Attack as Lebanon’s Oscar submission last year because there’s nothing Lebanese about the movie at all. In fact, the Lebanese elements of the movie are a mention of Hassan Nasrallah and Beirut – separately.
As a movie, The Attack works. It’s a decent thriller. There isn’t a dull moment, constantly keeping up the pace it sets from the get-go. The camera work, cinematography and locations are all well-done. But don’t expect it to blow you away. The acting, however, is superb. Both lead actors do a great job in their roles. Amsalem’s portrayal of Siham is gut-wrenching at times as is the life Ali Suliman gives her husband.
What The Attack manages to do, which might be the most important thing, is create a discussion. I watched the movie with 4 other Lebanese while on a stay in Paris – the movie will not be released in Lebanon – and we spent almost 40 minutes huddled outside the cinema center discussing what we had just seen. As a nation, though, Lebanon is possibly nowhere near ready for such a movie to be screened although the current state of Israel is eye-opening to what we, as a country, are so desperately lacking.