Elia Suleiman is a guy who makes films that juggle the preposterous (and frequently hilarious) with heartbreak. His latest film, 'It Must Be Heaven', presents a Chaplin-esque meditation on what it means to be "a citizen of the world", albeit filtered through a Palestinian lens, with farcical scenes of Suleiman as a wide-eyed observer of mundane life and its exaggerated stereotypes.
Writer, director and actor Suleiman divides his comedy into three acts. Playing himself, the veteran director potters around his native Palestine, drifting idly from one scene to the next. He's always watching with mild bemusement (over the course of the film, Suleiman only talks on a handful of occasions) as he steps into another story that is already in progress, often without any larger context, like a father and son trading barbs across the balconies of their shared home, or two brothers gulping glasses of whiskey while menacing a restaurant owner for serving their sister a chicken-dish cooked in wine. Eventually, he journeys abroad to seek financing for his latest movie.
Suleiman boards a plane to Paris, where a long, uncomfortable montage of women in miniskirts ensues. Suleiman is sitting outside a café having his coffee and gazing at fashionable bare legs. The following morning, Paris is deserted on Bastille Day, police officers on Segways are seen chasing a flower seller, and in a different scene they trail behind (what looks like) a homeless woman in the subway. The "police state" exists outside of Palestine as Suleiman shows in Paris, and then in New York when a group of police officers dodge a fitness group to catch a topless woman with words "Free Palestine" and the flag painted on her torso.
In New York, Suleiman walks amongst citizens carrying guns and rifles as they shop for groceries or cross the road. Suleiman is watched suspiciously by his African American cab driver who becomes joyous when he finds out where he's from (the cab driver proceeds to expresses his love for "Karafat"). Suleiman's friend, Gael García Bernal (played by the Mexican actor-director himself), attempts to explain the man's oeuvre to an American producer: "He's Palestinian... but he makes comedies!"
Suleiman's friend, Gael García Bernal (played by the Mexican actor-director himself), attempts to explain the man's oeuvre to an American producer: "He's Palestinian... but he makes comedies!"
Many snippets amuse the viewers throughout the film. All speak to one common reality where surveillance, class divisions, violence, cross-cultural perceptions and social tensions are found, in different forms, in each of the three cities. 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. If you enjoy the films of Aki Kaurismaki ('Le Havre', 'The Other Side Of Hope'), you'll be attuned to this film's vibrational frequencies and probably love it.
Much of 'It Must Be Heaven' presents instances of tension turned into normalcy. The film begins with a church in Nazareth where a bishop and his followers are hilariously prevented from entering by the drunken gatekeeper. A neighbour is seen stealing from Suleiman's lemon tree while watering and caring for it. Police officers snatch binoculars from a poor seller on the street to surveil a beat-up Palestinian man a few steps away. There is a subtly disturbing scene showing two Israeli soldiers driving behind Suleiman's car, comically exchanging sunglasses and staring at their reflection in the rear-view mirror while a blindfolded young Palestinian girl sits in the back. There is an incredibly funny scene where a cute little bird won't stop hopping onto Suleiman's keyboard while he tries to work.
Filled with humour, pathos, eerie poetry and some of the driest slapstick you'll ever see, the endearing message of 'It Must Be Heaven' is that people are kooky all over the world, even if some countries offer their own unique brands of zaniness.