Ziad Doueiri’s “The Attack” is really about two attacks. The obvious one is a suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv restaurant that kills 17 people. The less obvious one is a the way that bombing tears through the fabric of a marriage.
Amin (Ali Suliman) is what some Israelis would call “one of the good ones,” a Palestinian surgeon working in Tel Aviv. He’s very happy with his new life in Israel, convinced that his very existence is a model for Israeli-Palestinian integration. “Every Arab is a Jew,” he says when accepting a humanitarian award at a banquet, which seems like a glib way of both addressing and not addressing the relationship.
Then, one day at work, there’s a soft boom in the distance. Maimed Israelis start pouring into the emergency room, and Amin works tirelessly to save them. He’s exhausted when the Israeli police visit and ask him to look at a body. Dully, he pulls back the sheet and sees his wife Siham (Reymond Amsellem).
But there is worse news to come. The police believe Siham was the bomber.
Disbelieving and wracked with grief, Amin heads back to Palestine to look for answers. In its structure, “The Attack” reminded me of “In the Valley of Elah,” in which Tommy Lee Jones found some uneasy truths while investigating the death of his son, a soldier serving in Iraq. “The Attack” has the same mystery-plot structure, but it’s a sorrowful film, as Amin finds some answers he doesn’t want to hear, and discovers that other answers are simply unknowable.
Douieri served as a cameraman for Quentin Tarantino on his first few films, and beautifully captures the environments of both Tel Aviv and Palestine. The film occasionally features impressionistic flashbacks of Amin and Siham’s happier days, showing how Amin’s romanticizing of his wife blinded him to who she really was. The grim Suliman, who appears in nearly every frame of the film, expertly carries the weight of the film’s subject matter on his shoulders, effectively underplaying Amin’s journey from grief to anger to a mournful awakening.
This is unquestionably a film about Israel and Palestine, so scrupulously fair to both sides that both sides have denounced the film for going too easy on the other. But, at heart, “The Attack” is a movie about marriage and secrets, and about a displaced man who finds himself suddenly alone, without a family or a country.
The Blu-ray edition from Cohen Media includes only a photo gallery and a short but very informative interview with Doueiri recorded at the New York Film Festival.