Dr. Amin Jaafari is a revered surgeon in his Tel Aviv hospital, honored 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, 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 person the police think carried it out was his wife.
Lebanese writer-director Ziad Doueiri’s “The Attack” is a moving drama about the journey that 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.
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, whose reaction to the horror of suicide bombings has always been “What is WRONG with these people?,” refuses to believe it.
But as he hears the reasons women become suicide bombers debated on talk radio, as 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; from the West Bank city of Nablus, where they are both from; from clerics and hot-headed young true believers there.
Doueiri, the director of “West Beirut,” 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 and the film lets us see them as he does — hateful, bloody-minded fanatics. The next, he is enduring insults and rough treatment from security forces who consider him guilty purely on the basis of his heritage.
Suliman ably plays this doctor with the fearlessness of the privileged and makes the arc of his story — Dr. Jaafari should be afraid, of both sides — a compelling journey from grief, denial and confusion to some tiny 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.
Cast: Ali Suliman, Evgenia Dodena, Reymond Amsalem, Dvir Benedek
Written and directed by Ziad Doueiri. A Cohen Media Group release
Running time: 1:37
MPAA rating: R for some violent images, language and brief sexuality