Writer, director, and actor Elia Suleiman's poetic, satirical film Divine Intervention opens with a man in a Santa suit fleeing a pack of rock-wielding kids in the community of Nazareth. Before the movie is over, Suleiman offers up a floating balloon with Yasser Arafat's face, a female terrorist with Hong Kong action moves, and a final, ridiculously loaded shot of a pressure cooker about to explode. Drawing from the traditions of Luis Buñuel and Jacques Tati, Suleiman relies on the power of images and a sense of the absurd to describe the world as he experiences it. Which is to say that Divine Intervention doesn't have much a story. Much of its first half follows the petty, hilariously repetitive neighbor-to-neighbor grievances of a community of middle-class Nazarenes, and much of its second half follows the impassive Suleiman as he tries to finish a movie script between daily visits with his hospitalized father. The structure is loose, and the tone even looser: Divine Intervention offers lighthearted vignettes alongside dark comedy, and fantasy alongside howls of rage. The result is most impressive in its tightly controlled early scenes, where the same characters display the same annoying habits day after day, until the pattern is suddenly disrupted. The precision of the gags and the way Suleiman frames them in long, carefully balanced takes says more about how common people complicate conflict resolution than any of the footage of bombings and cruel Israeli checkpoints that clutters up Divine Intervention's second half. Still, the back stretch does have its lyrical and/or funny moments, with a well-choreographed sequence of patients in a convalescent ward navigating a smoke break, a great throwaway shot of an idly tossed fruit pit causing a tank to explode, and a classic bit of absurdist theater in which a blindfolded and gagged Palestinian prisoner helps the Israeli police give directions to a passerby. But the picture's original sense of purpose fades, replaced by ham-fisted political point-scoring. What Suleiman is trying to say becomes less important than the increasing boldness with which he says it. In the end, Divine Intervention has too many visionary setpieces, and not enough insight.
More from The A.V. Club