Reviewed by Xenia Sanut
Every person’s idea of heaven is different, which makes finding it a difficult task. We often search for heaven far from our homes and away from all that is familiar to us. However, in a world that is overrun with feelings of anxiety and paranoia, heaven seems even further from our reach. So, is there a paradise that frees us from the problems of our daily lives? And how do we get to it?
Palestinian director and screenwriter, Elia Suleiman, explores heaven and home in his newest comedy, It Must Be Heaven. Suleiman not only directed and wrote the film, but also stars in it as himself, playing a director trying to leave the problems of Palestine behind by moving abroad and taking his newest screenplay with him. As he tries to find someone willing to produce his film, he encounters problems as strange and complex as the ones back in his homeland. It Must Be Heaven is the first film that Suleiman has taken out of Palestine and into the greater world. While it does not directly examine the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like his previous films, the themes of violence, peace and identity are still explored, and are portrayed in a way that is surreal and obscure without compromising its message.
What stands out about It Must Be Heaven is how it uses bizarre situational comedy to highlight the absurdities of the world we live in. From New Yorkers carrying heavy-duty weapons and straps of ammunition, to cleaners using brooms and tin cans to play golf on the empty streets of Paris, the reality that exists in the film is a hyper-realised version of our own. It is a world where militarisation is enforced to keep the peace, and it is a peace that can only be kept through the oppression of others. Suleiman’s films have previously explored the threat of conflict at a close range, but what It Must Be Heaven does differently is that it examines what conflict does to those who leave it, how it affects your identity, and your idea of home.
Following the same thematic wavelength, the film’s choice of cinematography and Suleiman’s practically mute main character give It Must Be Heaven an observational but also confused feeling. The situations that Suleiman’s character finds himself in are frequently viewed through long takes, staged within a single frame. It gives Suleiman and the viewer the impression that they are watching a strange performance, always uncertain how it will play out. And those outcomes are often peculiar, with Suleiman’s character becoming increasingly confused and confounded by the cities he visits, slowly realising that they are not the symbols of freedom he believed them to be, and that a contradictory reality lies underneath. One example of this is when Suleiman moves to an empty Paris and sees a long procession of soldiers on horseback. They look majestic in their ceremonial uniforms, a symbol of France’s military might, but that is until we see a tiny street-sweeper appearing a few steps behind them, picking up the excrement that the horses leave behind. What It Must Be Heaven does nicely is that it gets us to laugh at ourselves, observe the mess that we have created and admit that this is not the opportunistic and inclusive heaven that we imagined our world would be.
This film is not only a comedic take on the state of our world, but also a form of encouragement. It wants us to look at how absurd our reality is and to consider the possibility that the gags we see are not too far from the hard truth. With humour and with grace, It Must Be Heaven shows that chaos and conflict will be there to greet you no matter where you go, but for now, finding hope and love in that confusion is as close as we may get to achieving heaven on Earth.