My top pick of the week is the 2012 Lebanese drama "The Attack". Set in Tel Aviv, the film is framed around the Israel-Palestinian conflict, exploring the way it impacts our central character - a Palestinian surgeon named Amin (played by Ali Suliman). As the events of the film unfold, he goes through feelings of betrayal and disillusionment as a fateful incident changes his life forever.
On approaching "The Attack", I anticipated much after its successful run through the 2012 festival circuit. Its subject matter (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) has produced a slew of films that I greatly admire. Based on what I was hoping for then, the film had its strengths and a few minor disappointments.
The film begins with a shocking act of terrorism, as a suicide bomber has caused the deaths of many persons. Based on the nature of her injuries, Amin's wife turns out to be the prime suspect. When he finds out, he reacts with staunch denial. In his eyes, his level-headed, peaceful wife just couldn't be the perpetrator of such extreme violence. However, he is eventually forced to come to terms with the facts. The plot therefore follows his gradual process of understanding.
This quest for answers leads the film down a path that it often struggles to engage fully with. I stated earlier that the film had some minor disappointments and that feeling stems mainly from the film's overall tone/style. Strangely enough, my expectations were based on films that weren't specifically related to the film's topic. Namely, I was hoping for either a brooding mystery in the vein of "Incendies" or a tense thriller like "Zero Dark Thirty". It's perhaps an strange comparison, but these films all share fairly similar Middle Eastern settings, socio-cultural implications and plot elements (mystery and/or investigation). Most importantly, I view them as high stylistic achievements and as such, they were constantly in the back of my mind.
Of course, judging a film based on another is a foolhardy thing to do. "The Attack" is neither a complicated mystery story nor a white knuckle thriller. Rather, it's an psycho-emotional drama about a man and his enlightenment about his wife and his society. This is actually compelling in itself, but the way that the script handles these issues left me unsatisfied.
Mainly, his reflections on his wife takes away some of the potency of the film. The flashback scenes are understandably nostalgic (he has nothing but fond memories of her) but they're altogether a bit too precious for the situation at hand. Considering the fact that he witnessed the horrifying aftermath first hand, it undermines the evident severity of her actions.
Similarly, this sentimentality takes away from some of the story's larger social themes. Despite being Palestinian, Amin is more in line with the Israeli/Jewish point of view. Hence, there's a crucial subplot about his perception of martyrdom that isn't given its due weight until late in the game. Consequently, the bulk of the film is somewhat impenetrable for the viewer, as it lacks the urgency that its title suggests while simultaneously avoiding deeper engagement with the psychology of all involved. As the film is based on a novel, it's possible that the literary source expands more on its ideas. From the way the script is presented, it obviously lends itself to many introspective moments that are inevitably difficult to translate to the screen.
Yet despite my criticisms, this is essentially a well-made film. There's something sincerely touching about the blind ignorance caused by love and those flashback scenes are directed and acted beautifully. Likewise, the film's resolution leaves a significant emotional impact. Clearly, Ali Suliman is a capable vessel for a character study, so it's unfortunate that the screenwriting isn't as dexterous as he is. Overall though, the film has enough strong elements to impress. Just temper your expectations beforehand.