The Attack (Ziad Doueiri – Lebanon/Qatar/France/Belgium) 102 minutes
The Attack, the third film by Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri, is a rare examination of Israeli society by an Arab filmmaker. Filmed in Tel Aviv and Nablus on the West Bank, it was banned in Doueiri’s native land, as well as in all other Arab League countries, for violating laws forbidding the normalisation of relations with Israel. It was an obtuse sanction, though entirely predictable and surely one Doueiri himself would have foreseen. Israel does not come out of the film, based on renegade Algerian army officer Yasmina Khadra’s novel, terribly well, but Doueiri’s film is not especially partisan either.
Palestino-Israeli actor Ali Suliman plays Dr Amin Jaafari, a West Bank Palestinian, who has risen, in the face of prejudice and suspicion, to become one of Israel’s most brilliant surgeons. The film begins with him receiving the country’s highest distinction for his profession. He speaks of tolerance and understanding, noting that all Arabs are a bit Jewish and all Jews have a bit of Arab in them. The next day however, a suicide attack in Tel Aviv kills 17 people in a restaurant in the middle of a children’s birthday party. Jaafari treats the victims, one of whom refuses to be operated on by an Arab doctor. After returning home later that evening, he is summoned back in, to be told that his Christian Arab wife (Reymond Amsalem) – whom he believed was visiting her family in Nazareth – was killed in the attack and is suspected by police to have been the bomber.
Dr Jaafari is incredulous that his wife could have been guilty yet he is taken in for questioning and subjected to borderline torture by the police. He is eventually released but his position at the hospital is then in jeopardy and there is even talk of stripping him of his Israeli citizenship. His house is vandalised and he decides to visit his family in Nablus for what appears to be the first time in decades. This is where the film falters badly. There are too many questions to be asked of the back story. Would a Palestinian from the occupied territories seriously neglect his family for so long, no matter how embedded he becomes in Israeli society? And even if that is possible, why does he remain in regular contact with his nephew Adel (Karim Saleh) when the latter is up to his eyeballs in paramilitary activity?
For all Suliman, previously seen in films such as Paradise Now, Lemon Tree and Body of Lies, tries to invest his character with real emotion, he is hampered by a script that ordains Jaafari be little more than a binary value, to be switched back and forth according to the plot’s meanderings. He is either the ‘Good Arab’ of Israeli social taxonomy, or he is an Uncle Tom for the Palestinians. Doueiri, who started off as a camera operator on Quentin Tarantino’s early films before making his debut with the fine Lebanese Civil War drama West Beirut, produces a slick, tense film that is very much in the style of contemporary Hollywood thrillers. But it is a bit too talky to really pass muster as one; the film’s efforts to resolve in the final ten minutes the lingering tension between inter-racial tolerance and national resistance are also too easily won. The Attack has much about it that is admirable and it is for the most part an intelligent film but its overly-schematic nature and narrative short-cuts make it ultimately disappointing.