7 Oct 2020

Review - It must be heaven

From At The Movies, 7:32 pm on 7 October 2020

It Must Be Heaven is a comic, almost surreal fable, set in three cities – Nazareth, Paris and New York – by Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, who also plays the lead,

Simon Morris: When I watched the hour and half of deadpan surrealism that is It Must Be Heaven I kept waiting for something to happen.

But it's not really that sort of film. Like Suleiman - playing, we assume, a version of himself - the best we can do is watch what takes place in front of us.

The opening act takes place in Nazareth, Suleiman's home town and these days a prosperous-looking Middle East city.

Suleiman spends his mornings sipping coffee, looking at people going past - wait, what did that man place under that car? Was it a bomb? - and chatting to his neighbours.

I'm not a thief, says the man picking lemons off someone else's tree. But later it turns out he is a thief, but it's all someone else's fault.

The security of Nazareth is in the hands of a trio of policemen, who roller-skate in formation past Suleiman's house. No-one investigates the bomb, incidentally.

The activities in Nazareth continue in a series of unconnected, unexplained and possibly symbolic scenes.

The only thing linking them is the presence of Suleiman - middle-aged, bemused and silent. He goes for a drive out into the countryside - a trip that magically leaves the earth and lifts into the sky…

Our man is in a plane, that eventually alights in France. Perhaps now he's gone somewhere else, events may become clearer.

Suleiman catches the Metro, where he's glowered at by a mysterious Parisian gangster for a few stops.

But nothing eventuates, and Suleiman arrives at his destination - a French film company, who might be interested in backing his latest film.

They tell him that Palestine is very cool right now. But they're a little concerned that this isn't what they're expecting. It's not angry enough - it's not Palestinian enough.

There's not much Suleiman can do about this, so he silently goes out into the street. There, suddenly, tanks go past, also planes. A display of military might - is that what this film is about?

But before we can start inflicting any interpretation on the proceedings we're interrupted by two Japanese tourists.

Since Suleiman is clearly not Brigitte he shrugs and moves on. Is he going to say anything in this movie?

Yes he is. He gets into a taxi, and the American driver turns and chats to him. Once again, Suleiman has travelled when we weren't looking and now he's in New York being asked a direct question. Obviously, it's rude not to answer.

Now I imagine I'm starting to infuriate people who are simply waiting to find out what exactly It must be heaven is trying to say, and whether it's saying it effectively.

The only answer I can give you is "it depends".

If you're in the mood for a series of slightly absurd scenes - very nicely shot, I should add - that circle the subjects of national identity, the duties of the police, political correctness and the role of cinema in asking questions, this may very well be your film.

Le Monde calls it "pure poetry" if that's any help, while Liberation is slightly more muted, calling it "genial".

And while I spent rather more time than I like scratching my head through this film - that's the sound of a lot of men, women and children walking around New York armed to the teeth, by the way - the images stayed with me longer than I expected.

Maybe Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal - who shows up unexpectedly at a New York production office - offers the best description of It must be heaven.

A comedy about peace? Why not? Though maybe change the title.

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to At The Movies

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)