DR. Amin Jaafari is a revered surgeon in his Tel Aviv hospital, honoured by his peers and seemingly embraced by his community. A secular Arab in a Jewish state, he travels easily in the highest medical circles, only occasionally catching a look, or an unguarded crack, about his Muslim background. If this outsider feeling gets too strong, he can always retreat to the arms of his loving wife, Siham.
If you're mangled in a suicide bombing, he's the steady hand you want operating -- unless you're a Jewish bigot.
Jaafari comes to see just how thin the veneer encasing his life is when there is such a bombing and innocent children are slaughtered. And the police think his wife carried it out.
Lebanese writer-director Ziad Doueiri's The Attack is a moving drama about the journey this sends Dr. Jaafari (Ali Suliman) on. It begins with a spiral, that moment when the police show him the remains -- a pile far too small to contain a whole human body -- of his wife (Reymond Amsalem) and start accusing her and, by extension him, of the crime. He is a "fake secular," a Muslim mole unknowingly embraced by the Jewish majority. Just how loose that embrace has been becomes obvious the moment he's accused. A security agent (Dvir Benedek), adoring him for saving his sickly mother in the opening scene, becomes his chief interrogator. Jaafari refuses to believe it.
But as he hears the reasons women become suicide bombers debated on talk radio and his one Jewish friend and peer (Evgenia Dodena) becomes, to him, "The nice Jew defending the poor little Arab," the doctor develops doubts. And as suspicions about his own involvement fade, he sets out to find answers from the suspicious-acting nephew who visited his wife, along with clerics and hot-headed believers in her hometown.
Doueiri has seen his film banned in parts of the Arab world because he went to Israel to film it. But this is no Zionist propaganda piece. One minute, the doctor is stalked and rebuffed by Palestinians who see him both as the spouse of a martyr and a traitor to his own kind, the next, he endures rough treatment from security forces who consider him guilty on the basis of his heritage.
Suliman plays this doctor with the fearlessness of the privileged and makes the arc of his story -- he should be afraid, of both sides -- a compelling journey from grief, denial and confusion to a corner of understanding.
And Doueiri has brilliantly and simply put a compassionate human face on a part of the world where ethnicity still trumps education, class and achievement, and where even the successful face, at best, second-class citizenship in their own country.
-- McClatchy-Tribune News Service