Palestinian actor, writer and director, Elia Suleiman has a background in both feature and documentary film. These two threads come together in his latest project, It Must Be Heaven.
Playing himself, Suleiman becomes the passive observer of urban life. First in his native city of Nazareth, then in Paris, and finally in New York. There is no plot as such, but we are drawn along as he tries to sell his film idea to a French, and then an American producer. There is gentle, self-deprecating humour, such as when the French producer decides the film is not Palestinian enough.
Along Suleiman’s journey we are presented with a diverse range of vignettes: police on roller-skates; a neighbour with an impossible story about a snake; a menacing, yet oddly polite young man in the subway; the impossibly elegant women of Paris. Yet wherever he goes, he takes Palestine with him. Not just in his heart, but in his interpretation of the sights and sounds around him.
There are echoes of Tati at his best, both in the muteness of the protagonist, and in the mostly visual humour. Yet Suleiman does not fail to put his own, unique stamp on the work. Many of the scenes are shot empty of people, lending a surreal otherness to the three cities, and emphasising the fact that a city is only as interesting as its inhabitants.
This is an unusual film, particularly within the contemporary canon. Yet it is not difficult. Its complexity hides beautifully within its seeming simplicity. It draws you in without your realising it has done so. It Must Be Heaven needs to be allowed to wash over you.
Veteran Palestinian actor Tarik Kopty appears as the quirky neighbour. French film producer Vincent Maraval appears as…a French film producer! And renowned Mexican actor and director Gael Garcia Bernal makes a guest appearance as himself. Suleiman fills the cast with lesser known actors, gifting each of them a wonderful cameo.
This is a quiet (very quiet!), gentle, humorous, and yet substantial film: the work of a master-director.
It Must Be Heaven opens on July 2nd at Wallis Cinemas, Mitcham and Mount Barker, and other cinemas later.