“The Attack” isn't the first drama to examine what breeds a terrorist, or to explore Israeli-Palestinian divides, but it is a stirring blend of reality and romance. As an investigative mystery, it's suspenseful, and as a love story, it's a heartbreaker.
Directed by Lebanon-born Ziad Doueiri (“West Beirut”), and adapted by Doueiri and Joelle Touma from the novel by Yasmina Khadra, the film echoes “Paradise Now” with its theme of a suicide bombing. But in this case the bombing element dissolves after Act 1, and the primary drama involves a marriage.
Naturalistic tones and subtle storytelling belie the pulpy Quentin Tarantino credits on Doueiri's cinematography résumé.
Amin (Ali Suliman), a Palestinian-Israeli surgeon living in Tel Aviv, enjoys a life that includes Jewish friends and a wife he adores, Siham (Reymond Amsalem). At the film's outset, he is about to become the first Arab doctor to receive an Israeli medical “Oscar.”
That world shatters, however, along with Amin's complacency, when a suicide bomber blows up a restaurant, killing 11 children, and authorities name Siham the perpetrator.
Himself a suspect, but exonerated after a brutal interrogation, a shocked Amin travels to Nablus, in the West Bank, to find out how a “woman who wouldn't hurt a fly” could become a “fundamentalist monster.”
There, he discovers that Siham, branded a “child killer” in Israel, is considered a martyr among local Palestinians. Posters bearing her photograph adorn walls.
Amin, meanwhile, is labeled an Israeli collaborator as he tries to meet with relatives and religious figures who might provide insight into Siham's conversion.
Returning to Israel with lots of questions, Amin feels caught between two worlds and realizes that his acceptance in Israeli society was always shaky. Piecing together what he has learned and delving into memories of Siham for additional clues, he struggles to form a picture of the woman he thought he knew.
There's a bit too much symbolism in this story; Amin and Siham's marriage representing ideological divisions comes at the characters' expense. Siham, who appears mostly in romanticized form in Amin's mind, particularly suffers in that viewers don't know much about her before her transformation.
Still, “The Attack” is engrossing and affecting, with multidimensional observances about both sides of the political conflict. Doueiri captures complexities of history, culture and immense emotion, and also creates an entertaining, danger-laced detective journey.
Starring Ali Suliman, Reymonde Amsellem, Evgenia Dodina, Dvir Benedek
Written by Ziad Doueiri, Joelle Touma
Directed by Ziad Doueiri
Running time 1 hour, 42 minutes