Every year in April, the City of Lights (Paris) and the City of Angels (Los Angeles) get together at the Directors Guild of America building on Sunset Boulevard and delight film-loving audiences with a week of French film premieres in Hollywood. The dizzying array of films presented includes new features, shorts, documentaries and classics of French cinema. It's a blast. And since I'm lucky enough to live close by, my husband and I can walk (yes, here in L.A.!) to the festival known as COL COA.
On the same sad day, where the city of Boston fell victim to extreme violence, it is fitting that the first film I got to see was titled The Attack (L'Attentat in French), based on the international best-seller by Yasmina Khadra. Director and Beirut native Ziad Doueiri has crafted a powerful observation on the seemingly insoluble challenges facing even the best-intentioned players in the Israeli-Palestinian narrative.
We know this story is complex. We understand the history that all sides can't forget. And we've seen the many films that have portrayed both the peace-seeking and revenge-centered characters presenting their convincing raison d'être. I am not a film critic nor a film historian, so I can't say that the story told in this film is a "first." Is there such a thing, anyway? Isn't it how well the story is told, no matter how many times before?
After seeing the film, and then engaging in a Q&A with its impassioned co-writer and director, all I can say is that it is a testament to the power of the natural bonds that form when one human being takes the time to see his enemy through a personal lens -- whether it be one of friendship, family, love or art.
In The Attack, a successful Palestinian surgeon, well established and surrounded by loving friends in Tel Aviv, suddenly finds his world turned upside down when his wife's remains are found among the victims of a suicide bombing, and, impossibly, he is suspected of being an accomplice to the crime. The doctor's journey to uncover his wife's shocking secrets brings him face to face with the troubling nature of love and grief, loyalty and anger, and the intractable blood-stained color of passion.
To hear Ziad Doueiri tell it, his heart was changed through the making of his film, as were the hard-held beliefs of several Palestinian members of his cast and crew. And although he dares not hope for a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict in his lifetime, he knows it will come to pass someday if only because he recognizes that human beings yearn to connect with one another, and that meaningful cultural engagement can bring a fresh outlook on old conflicts.
Doueiri says that, according to a law in his country, it is illegal for a Lebanese citizen to enter Israel or engage in any way with Israeli citizens. In order to tell the truest story, he knew the film had to be shot in Israel, so he went anyway. He may go to jail for it, but he felt it was important to do it right. With that kind of passion, I can almost see the light through all the smoke and tears, blood and rubble. Even in Boston.
The festival ends on April 22. Many of the films are already sold out, but check it out anyway. You may get lucky! For more information, visit COL COA.