‘The Attack’ unravels mystery around suicide bombing in Tel Aviv

‘The Attack’

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

In “The Attack”, a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv is the starting point for a taut and moving mystery/drama as a fully-assimilated Arab Israeli doctor tries to prove his wife was not the bomber. Writer/director Ziad Doueiri, whose previous films include “West Beirut,” adapted Yasmina Khadra’s award-winning international bestseller for this film of the same name. 

Although the film attempts the difficult task of presenting a neutral view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that has some sympathy for all sides, it faces a potential ban by the Arab League. 

For Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman), a successful assimilated Palestinian surgeon with an Israeli passport, a beautiful Christian Palestinian wife and many Jewish friends, life couldn’t be better. The doctor has just been honored as the first Arab recipient of a prestigious Israeli medical award, dubbed the “medical Oscar” by a friend. But the next day, as colleagues are still congratulating him, a suicide bombing takes place near his Tel Aviv hospital. Nineteen are killed and the surgeon goes to work treating the many injured in the attack. 

Later, Amin learns his beloved wife Sihem (Reymonde Amsellem) is among the dead and, what’s more, the Israeli police believe she was the bomber. The incident tears his life apart and sends him into the Palestinian territories in search of the truth.

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“The Attack” blends together elements of a political thriller and haunting mystery, but it’s as much a love story as anything, about a grieving widower caught in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The film raises difficult questions in a very polished production that is filled with fine acting. As a heart-breaking drama, “The Attack” succeeds thanks to its skillful direction and strong cast although, at times, the storyline stretches credibility, even in unusual circumstances. Its theme of assimilation and conflicted loyalties may make it a controversial film for some.

The film grabs you from the start, but becomes something more as it unreels, deepening in complexity and meaning. The doctor’s life and assumptions about his world unravel as his quest for the truth uncovers increasingly disturbing things. The title has two meanings, both the suicide bombing and the way it blows apart his view of the world.   

Both the doctor and his wife were secular but the Palestinian-Israeli conflict still divides their family and impacts their lives, despite his assimilation. When Amin is taken in for police questioning about the bombing, the attitudes of people at the hospital and in his neighborhood towards him change. Although many colleagues desert him and his home is vandalized, other Jewish friends stand by him.  

“The Attack” is a film about raw human emotion but offers a sympathetic view of a man caught in the middle, and strives to be fair to all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Faced with family members whose ideas seem completely wrong to him, Amin is nonetheless torn by their emotional and familial connections. Confronted by rejection and suspicion from those in Tel Aviv who had shared his political views on peace and cooperation, he feels cast adrift from all that is familiar. 

The acting is incredibly powerful. Suliman as Amin delivers a moving performance as a man who has both a good heart and confidence in his own abilities but suddenly finds himself lost in a world that makes little sense to him. Suliman carries much of the emotional weight of the film but strong supporting performances from Amsellem as his wife, Evgenia Dodina as a Russian Jewish friend who stands by him and others help drive the film through critical characters who give voice to various aspects of the political conflict. Scenes between Suliman and Amsellem, some in flashback as the doctor seeks answers in the Palestinian territories, create a strong sense of the romantic love between Amin and his wife Sihem, which makes later discoveries all the more disturbing and heartbreaking.  

“The Attack” is a film that does not offer comfortable answers but it is a worthy exploration of a complex topic as well as a look at what it is like for someone caught the middle. 

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