Title: The Attack
Genre: Drama, Mystery, War
Director: Ziad Doueiri
Screenwriters: Joelle Touma, Ziad Doueiri
Starring: Ali Suliman, Reymonde Amsallem, Evgenia Dodina
Screened at the 2012 Telluride Film Festival.
One of the many dimensions of the remarkable Lebanese film The Attack concerns a man who discovers that he hardly knows the woman with whom he’s been madly in love through a decade of marriage. As the movie opens, Dr. Amin Jaafari, a prominent and successful Arab surgeon in Tel Aviv, receives a prestigious award from the Israeli medical establishment, delivering a moving speech about how having your supposed enemy on your operating table shifts your perspective on things. The next afternoon at the hospital, he deals with the gruesome aftermath of a devastating suicide bombing at a nearby restaurant. That night, he gets a call to come back to the hospital to identify a body. The remains are his wife’s. The police tell him she was the bomber.
To call this mystifying would be the understatement of the century. Dr. Jaafari had been the pinnacle of secular society in Tel Aviv. His wife was Christian, so far as he knew. But the evidence that she killed herself and seventeen others — including a birthday party of 11 children — is overwhelming, and eventually overcomes even Amin’s initial strident denial. What could have led his beautiful, intelligent wife to do this?
The Attack is a sensitive, unsentimental exploration of what it’s like to discover that someone you loved and thought you knew is a different person entirely. And that theme serves as the film’s gateway to thinking about other, bigger questions. Amin is an eminently sane, secular man who wants the sort of western lifestyle that Israel purports to offer. But because of his name and the color of his skin, for him to live among like-minded Jews takes a tremendous amount of trust, on both sides — trust that everyone’s professed liberal beliefs are both genuine and that they override the other loyalties in play. But if you can’t even know your own spouse, how do you build and maintain that kind of trust? The Attack makes a devastating argument that it’s impossible.
Director Zaid Doueiri has no political agenda. He depicts a society beset with a hopelessly tangled web of motivations, each rational individually but leading to madness in the aggregate. The film is sober and dispassionate except when considering Amin himself, whom veteran actor Eli Suleiman portrays with flinty, down-to-earth rage and despair. The conclusions Amin ultimately reaches suggest that in this crisis, humane sanity can only leave you in a lonely no-man’s land — without a country, and without a home.
— Eugene Novikov