This droll, sometimes utterly amusing comedy of sight gags, makes certain sharp socio-political observations, but is ultimately too slight and inconsistent a film to really work.
Dir. Elia Suleiman
2019 | Palestine | Comedy | 97 mins | 1.66:1 | Arabic, French & English
Not rated (likely to be PG13)
Cast: Elia Suleiman
Plot: Filmmaker Elia Suleiman travels to different cities and finds unexpected parallels to his homeland of Palestine.
Awards: Won FIPRESCI Prize (Cannes)
International Sales: Wild Bunch
Subject Matter: Light
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on screener)
Elia Suleiman’s latest, and 10 years since his last feature (2009’s The Time That Remains), It Must Be Heaven is a generally welcome return for one of Middle Eastern cinema’s major filmmakers.
But if you are expecting a great film, you might be disappointed, for in this new work he delivers an effort rather too slight to have any substantial impact, though it does just enough to make viewers want to go on a journey with the lead protagonist, played by Suleiman himself, who well… plays himself—a director in search of new experiences and just maybe a new funded film project.
But ‘new experiences’ may be a misnomer because as he visits Paris and New York, he sees some uncanny parallels with his homeland of Palestine—for instance, militarism in Paris as tanks roll over the tarmac in celebration of some nationalistic milestone, or clumsy police chasing after a troublemaker bearing a Palestinian flag in New York.
Official submission of Palestine for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ category of the 92nd Academy Awards.
Some sight gags don’t involve politics but instead the minutiae of daily life, though not everything works. But when they do, it rivals the best of what might have come out of the cinema of Roy Andersson and Jacques Tati.
One of the most hilarious vignettes involves Suleiman making fun of lax US gun laws, and in another wholly surreal scene, he leaves an airport security guard utterly shell-shocked. However, the great moments don’t quite add up, and it becomes a fairly inconsistent and meandering film after a while—case in point: see scene of him working on his computer as a small bird annoys him to no end.
It Must Be Heaven wants to say something about being a citizen of the world, perhaps in relation to what it means to be a Palestinian, but it offers little in evidence of a strong point-of-view.
In fact, one might even accuse the director of being too meek and too accepting of one’s own destiny. But perhaps trying to find the lighter side of a serious subject matter is his greatest strength, for it is only through dry amusement and an appreciation for the absurd that we may begin to make sense of our bizarre world.
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