The Attack

Jul 7, 2013

The Attack Grade: A Director: Ziad Doueiri (Lila Says) Screenplay: Doueiri from Yasmina Khadra novel (pen name of Algerian author Mohammed Moulessehoul) Cast: Ali Suliman (Under the Same Sun), Evgenia Dodena Rating: NR Runtime: 102 min. by John DeSando “Who knows the secrets of the human heart?” The Crying Game. Three tales comprise this simple, beautiful, and harrowing drama of a Palestinian doctor, Ali Suliman (Amin Jaafari), working in Tel Aviv and receiving the equivalent of the Israeli “medical Oscar.” What a fine metaphor, you say, of hope for peace between these warring peoples! Yes, but why is his wife, Siham (Reymond Amsalem), not there to share in his finest professional moment? The Attack is first of all about a terrorist act, for she is preparing to become a Palestinian martyr at the expense of 17 Tel Aviv civilians’ lives and numerous maimed women and children. The reality of this tale is that such attacks are common but not so easily explained except that two populations hate each other enough to commit mayhem the reason for which no one can really understand beyond the obvious territoriality. Second, it’s an attack on the brilliant doctor’s understanding of human nature as he assesses how he knew nothing for their 15 married years about what would lead her to become a suicide bomber. In thematic terms, the fathomless mystery lives on about how well we know those closest to us (see opening quote) and by extension, how well the Israelis and Palestinians know each other. Third, The Attack is about understanding the wall between Israel and Palestine that makes collaboration such as in the opening medical award scene a fantasy for two peoples in a terrorist state of mind. Slowly the film allows the hatred and suspicion to seep into each frame with a subtlety so graceful as almost to be unseen and unfelt. Never does the film descend into melodrama or hysteria. The Attack is an understated masterpiece focusing on the emerging awareness of a doctor that the violence he tends to in the hospital is closer at home, but he learns too late. That is probably the most effective part of Lebanese writer/director Ziad Doueiri’s vision: We can’t understand terror in part because it hides itself until it explodes on the scene. Although the Arab League asked for a boycott of the film because the director violated a Lebanese policy forbidding work by its citizens in Israel, the league may have missed the film’s somewhat benign treatment of Siham and her cause. Truth be told, though, neither Israel nor Palestine is the bad team in this film. Rather, the bad is the ignorance that fosters violence in the name of liberty. Such a lack of awareness assures there will always be attacks. The only hope I found is in Screen Comment’s final assessment of the film itself as an emblem of cooperation: “Witness the coming together of a crew as talented, as diverse and as honest as that of ‘The Attack,’ bringing us this unflinching testimony of a situation to which the world has unfortunately become inured but which will have to find a solution some day.” John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at Contact him at