Destination Palestine: Our Review of ‘It Must Be Heaven’

Posted in Movies, VOD/iTunes/DigitalDownload by - June 10, 2020
Destination Palestine: Our Review of ‘It Must Be Heaven’

A film festival favorite comes on demand, and it is the good kind of weird. Watching Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven will make audiences wonder what it’s about. But the film is good enough to justify its ambiguities. We can describe one of the opening scenes as Suleiman, playing himself. He watches a man (Ali Suliman) defend his sister’s honor.

That is a description that would fit a Westerner’s view of Palestine, but the scene is obviously more than that. In one way, there is something universal about this scene. It shows a ‘I want to speak to the manager’ element to it. The characters’ stillness also reminds us that yes, we are watching a comedy.

Suleiman uses these scenes to establish his view of Palestine, a city of earthen and golden walls. A history that is continuing, its latest chapters including the absurd events he witnesses. He eventually gets to what his film is about, as he leaves the walled city of Nazareth for ‘freer’ places.

It Must Be Heaven goes to those places, his polished approach evident in depicting them. Suleiman then subverts the relationship between the developing world and the developed. He does that by turning the camera on himself in these places. He does this as much as he shows what he thinks those places look like. His first destination is Paris.

The Palestinian director, still playing himself, is there to pitch his film. But he shows himself reacting to the world’s fashion capital. It is male gaze-y, as one fashionable woman walk in front of him, either oblivious or contemptuous of him. And yet he keeps his Keatonesque expression.

There are more women in that one scene than in the first Palestinian scenes but none of them make him happy. The comedy here also comes from the way he looks at the institutions that keep Palestine, Paris, and New York running. He has empathy for waiters or sanitation workers wherever they work. But their actions show how much those institutions are inadequate.

Suleiman also uses his appearance and comments on it. Not a lot of the other characters talk to him, but when they do, they do not recognize his ethnicity. He tells a cab driver in New York that he is Palestinian. Perhaps it is nice not to be a victim of constant racial profiling. But that also means that he becomes invisible in a global mosaic, and so does the problems his people face.

It Must Be Heaven gets funnier as it progresses, but that might also be because it ends by showing New York City. That’s a city that Western audiences are more familiar with. His New York is one where everybody open carries, even black people and Asians. Most Westerners know that there is no way black people or, to a lesser extent, Asians, can open carry in America.

But the ridiculousness of that and scenes like it makes it funnier. The film itself is a comment on what American culture share with Western perceptions of Palestinian culture, especially the guns. Cameos include Gael Garcia Bernal and Stephen McHattie in It Must Be Heaven. Eeveryone becomes a smart version of a stereotype, and Suleiman uses film for absurdist subversion.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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