"The Attack,” directed by Ziad Doueiri and written by him and his wife Joëlle Touma, based on the novel “The Attack” by Yasmina Khadra; released by Cohen Media Group; starring Ali Suliman (Amin) in a captivating performance backed by excellent performances by Reymonde Amsellem (Siham), Evgenia Dodina (Kim), Uri Gavriel (Captain Moshe), Karim Saleh (Adel), Dvir Benedek (Raveed), Ruba Salameh (Faten) and Ramzi Maqdisi (the Priest), opened this week in Los Angeles.
Anthem Magazine’s description of the film and its Lebanese-American director is a succinct summary:
After leaving Lebanon during the Civil War, director Ziad Doueiri graduated with a film degree from San Diego State University. He went onto serve as the camera operator on Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. … Doueiri’s first film, the critically acclaimed Cannes Film Festival selection West Beirut, put him on the map as one of the most talented directors to come out of the Middle East. Over a decade later, he’s shouting from the rooftops again with The Attack, which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival.
Adapted from Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra’s eponymous international bestselling novel, which was translated into over 40 languages, The Attack tells the pointed human story of Amin, a Palestinian-Israeli surgeon, who discovers that his wife is a suicide bomber. The film was recently banned by the Lebanese government and the Arab League. So obviously, go watch this.
Here is a portion of the Anthem interview with the director:
This film might come across as pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli depending on the spectator. How did you go about creating the kind of neutrality in order to focus on the characters and the love story at hand?
It was a delicate walk through a minefield. Slogans and old discourse were waiting for us at every turn. We knew we wouldn’t please everyone, but who cares about that? I don’t consider this film “neutral”. Neutrality is boring. The film takes sides with the protagonist’s quest and inner journey.
Have you received any criticism for casting Reymond Amsalem, an Israeli actress? I understand there were several Israeli actors attached to this film.
Yes. Arabic press and also a few people in the Arab and Palestinian film business hit the roof! What did you expect? Of course, when you use Israeli Jews to play Arabs, the Arabs go nuts, but Arabs never seem to mind when they are offered to play Israeli Jewish roles! It’s hypocritical, if you ask me. Don’t let me go off on this one…
The Lebanese government had originally approved The Attack to screen in Lebanon before deciding to reverse that decision. That must have come as quite a blow to you. Did you anticipate that happening at all?
I was first very impressed when the Lebanese government approved it, not a single scene or line of dialogue cut. But then, pressure groups, like the pathetic Israel Boycott Committee, convinced another pathetic organization, the Arab League, to ask 22 Arab countries to ban the film. Nobody does a better job fucking Arabs as Arab regimes do. There are massacres and crimes and rapes going on now in the Arab world, and the Arab League can’t even agree on what to do about it. Yet, they unanimously agreed to boycott a film. Gamal Abdel Nasser couldn’t unite Arabs. I did.
The New York Jewish Week reports that:
“The Attack” provides no easy answers and few clear-cut heroes and villains. Amin’s friends are mostly Israeli Jews, and their reaction to the events runs the gamut.
The Lebanese film academy decided the film was “too Israeli” to be their nominee for the foreign-language Oscar.
The actual shooting was probably the easiest part of the process. The Israeli and Palestinian crew got along fine, as usual. “They deal with each other all the time,” Doueiri shrugs.
The biggest consciousness-raising took place inside the director’s head.
“The whole experience opened my eyes,” he says. “I was a child during the Lebanese civil war and I remember Israeli bombardments. So growing up, my view of Israel was completely negative. I’m not coming from a neutral place, but with time I’ve had to re-examine my thinking. Look, [as we worked on the film] you’re sitting with a guy in front of you, working with you, and he’s a nice guy. And Israel went way out on a limb for this film, and I appreciate that.
“The mystified idea I had of Israel — the demonization of Israel — it just wasn’t true,” Doueiri continues. “When I was filming, I realized that the Israelis I was working with were eager to end this conflict. They’re fully aware of the occupation. They’re also caught in a sensitive situation.”
The result for Doueiri was transformative.
“I was a bit calmer as the shoot went on,” he admits. “I started to actually enjoy this experience.”
The change undoubtedly benefitted the final product, he says.
“People on both sides of the conflict are eager to see something new,” Doueiri says. “On this subject opinion is so polarized. I hadn’t set out to do the same thing. Dramatically it’s much more interesting to be nuanced. It’s a relief not having to be didactic. An audience doesn’t want to see a slogan.”
At Heeb Magazine, Jewdar concludes that:
[T]he movie takes a remarkably even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we see real human beings, with real concerns, on both sides (it is sufficiently even handed that, according to the Beirut-born Doueiri, the Arab League has called for a boycott on the grounds that it insufficiently demonizes Israelis). To a great extent, though, the movie is less about the conflict, than about a web of complex relationships, and one man’s efforts to understand his place in their midst. And if some questions remain unanswered, well, you can’t really blame Doueiri (who co-wrote the screenplay with his wife) for not being able to resolve them any better than the Israelis and Palestinians themselves.
Here is an interesting video interview with the director, worth watching before or after seeing the film: