To be perfectly honest, when I requested The Attack it was listed in our screener pool only as "Attack" and I thought it was the same-named 1955 Robert Aldrich war movie. Instead, it turned out to be a partly American-financed movie about an Arab man living in Tel Aviv coming to grips with the realization that his wife may have been responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 17 people, mostly innocent children. Based on Yasmina Khadra's bestselling novel (L'Attentat) and co-adapted (with Joelle Touma) by director Ziad Doueiri, The Attack is a gripping, complex drama, the kind of thing where all of the dialogue and action is extremely intelligent and multifaceted.
The Blu-ray arrives courtesy Cohen Media Group, a label batting 100% with this reviewer so far. The transfer is strong and includes, among other things, an interview with director Doueiri.
Wealthy, non-practicing Muslim Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) receives a career-capping award from his Israeli colleagues, but his wife of 15 years, Siham (Reymond Amsalem), an Arab-Christian, is conspicuously absent. Moments before he's to take to the stage and receive his prize Siham rings his cellphone but he tells her he can't talk just then and hangs up.
The next afternoon a terrorist attack on a Tel Aviv restaurant brings dozens of mangled bodies to Jaafari's emergency room. Of the seventeen innocent civilians killed in the Palestinian terrorist attack, ten are children who were attending a birthday party. He returns to his empty home, falls asleep and is awakened by a call to return to the hospital. He thinks it's another emergency patient, but instead it's Israeli security authorities asking him to identify what's left of the body of the suicide bomber. Nothing remains below the sternum, but it's unquestionably Siham, her dead eyes placidly staring at the ceiling. (In a clever, disturbing touch, Jaafari had coincidentally encountered the sheet-covered remains earlier in the day, in a cramped elevator.)
An intimidating, Lawrence Tierney-like detective (Uri Gavriel, very good) grills Jaafari using harsh interrogative techniques, including blasting his tiny cell with heavy metal music and keeping him awake for more than three days, but eventually he's fully exonerated.
Jaafari, however, is certain there must be some mistake. His gentle wife would never commit such a horrific act and even if she were planning something, surely he'd have some inkling about it.
The Attack is about many things at once. Partly it's about trying to rationalize the irrational. As Jaafari begins to accept that Siham was indeed the suicide bomber, he looks for reasons, for a long time believing Muslim extremists must have targeted her because of her position in Israeli society, taking advantage of some undetected-by-him vulnerability and corrupting her mind. He travels to Nablus, in the northern West Bank, asking relatives about the trip she took there just before the bombing, hoping to track down the radical Muslims who provided her with the means to carry out the attack.
In Nablus, Siham has become a celebrated martyr; posters of her (the Arabic words on them go untranslated, alas) are all over the city. But Jaafari is viewed with great suspicion. Everyone clams up, worried that this Arab Uncle Tom may be deliberately or inadvertently leading Israeli authorities to them. The Attack then is also a story of national and religious identity. Jaafari is an Arab thriving in Israel. Nearly all his friends and colleagues are Jews, he's not religious, and until the bombing he assumed neither was his wife.
After the bombing his friends, particularly Kim (Evgenia Dodina), provide emotional support, despite official threats by the right to revoke his Israeli citizenship and after anti-Muslims vandalize his home, spraying graffiti everywhere (also not translated). But Jaafari's friends stand by him because they know he was completely oblivious to Siham's actions and would not have condoned them if he did. Late in the film, after Jaafari confronts one of Siham's coconspirators, Kim pressures Jaafari to give him up. After all, she argues, doesn't he have a duty to protect his adopted country? Where's his gratitude for their magnanimity?
Is Jaafari merely being used by liberal Israelis, sponsoring a token "good Muslim" to painlessly alleviate guilt for not taking substantive action that might bring Jews and Muslims closer to a more peaceful, equitable understanding? Is Jaafari, not Siham, the one being used, enjoying wealth and freedoms that the Palestinian relatives he keeps at arms length cannot?
The Attack raises many interesting questions but wisely offers no easy answers. Even the motives behind Siham's radical decision to become a suicide bomber while keeping this secret from her husband are never fully made clear. The movie impresses in the way it balances vehemently opposing Israeli and Arab positions, expressing each with observant understanding without taking sides. Ultimately neither comes off unscathed, nobody does, though in subtle ways the Israelis come off worse because they're in a position of power to affect change where the Arabs are mainly angry and desperate.
It's ironic, then, that The Attack was released in Israel but banned in nearly all of the Arab world, its exhibition to date apparently limited to a festival screening in Morocco.
Video & Audio
The Attack was shot in high-definition video but presented here in its original 2.35:1 ‘scope theatrical aspect ratio. It's a handsome looking production that makes extraordinary use of locations most of us are only used to seeing on the evening news. The DTS-HD Master Audio is also excellent, with a good surround mix and full of life generally. The film is in Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles. As noted above, some fairly important onscreen text is, frustratingly, not translated.
Supplements are light, limited to a short video interview with director, moderated by Columbia University film professor Richard Peña; a photo gallery, and a trailer.
An excellent, complex drama, The Attack is Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.