Palestinian actor/director Elia Suleiman has made a career of exploring his national identity. In his new film, “It Must Be Heaven,” he continues on that trajectory by visiting New York and Paris. In one scene Suleiman, starring as a character known as ES, pitches the very movie we’re watching to a Parisian film producer (Vincent Maraval) who rejects the idea with a scoff. “It’s not Palestinian enough,” he says. “It could take place anywhere, even here,” which, as it turns out, is the entire idea behind the story.
ES is a deadpan, mostly silent Mr-Bean-by-way-of-Charlie-Chaplin character who lives in Nazareth. He’s the star of a series of vignettes, each featuring slice-of-life situations. A neighbour steals lemons from the tree in his yard. “Don’t think I’m stealing,” the man says. “I knocked on the door, but nobody was there.” In New York he encounters heavily armed people in a Brooklyn grocery store—complete with ammo belts spilling out of baby carriages—and while in Paris there’s a sparrow who flies through his Paris window and hops on his keyboard as he tries to write.
Each disconnected story fragment uses surreal humour as an allegory to illuminate the politics and conflicts of his home but the further he travels the more he realizes that the ills of his homeland are universal ailments, not specific to his home.
“It Must Be Heaven” is a finely crafted, unique movie that revels in its absurdity. Suleiman is a keen observer, both as a director and the film’s star. He spends a great deal of the movie watching the action around him, inviting us, as the viewer, to watch and learn with him. He welcomes us to observe and decode the situations with him, gently easing us into his new, expanded world view.