★★★★ - STUFF
- Why this Palestinian comedy is a gem of a movie -
An extraordinarily dapper and well-preserved 60- year-old gentleman by the name of Elia Suleiman lives in the city of Nazareth, in present-day Palestine.
Suleiman must travel to Paris and then to New York, where he is expected to deliver a lecture or two to an adoring forum of students and pro-Palestinian supporters. Suleiman is also trying to raise money for his latest project. Which, we obliquely realise, might just be the actual film we are watching.
Obliquely is a word I thought of a lot, reviewing It Must Be Heaven, which is Elia Suleiman's fourth feature film, and the winner at the most recent Cannes Film Festival of “Best Film in Competition”.
In recounting a wildly fictionalised account of a few months in his own life, Suleiman grants himself a canvas on which to express any amount of whimsy and wonder at the modern world. Suleiman himself barely speaks, and simply watches, as the street, city and landscapes he observes play out their tender, intricate absurdities before him.
In an olive grove in Palestine, a woman carries two brass bowls across a field in a way which would give a time-and-motion expert a heart attack, but which looked full of tradition and wonder to me. In Paris, police on Segways chase a suspect, before the pursuit devolves into a choreographed, mechanised ballet on the street below Suleiman's apartment. And in New York, a dream of a population who all carry guns turns into a rain-drenched journey from film school to film production office, with only a brief conversation with actor Gael Garcia Bernal – playing himself – to bring us back to earth.
Suleiman is compared endlessly to Buster Keaton and to Jacques Tati, and yes, the debt is clearly there. But Suleiman's motif is pure stillness, not the explosions of unrepeatable physical genius of his alleged mentors. If you're looking for a more relevant and accessible point of comparison to Suleiman, then I reckon you'll see echoes in the films of Wes Anderson, Roy Andersson and Aki Kaurismaki.
Suleiman even has one character ask him, within this film, “does your style of film-making make you the perfect stranger?”, to which he has no answer.
A little later, Gael Garcia Bernal introduces Suleiman to a New York film financier with “he's Palestinian, but he makes funny films”.
Yes, yes he does. And also endlessly thoughtful, self-aware, reflective and achingly human ones. It Must Be Heaven is a gem.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
It Must Be Heaven is now playing at Light House Petone and Cuba!
In English and Arabic and French with English subtitles.