Winner of two awards at San Sebastian, Ziad Doueiri’s “The Attack,”
based on the bestselling novel by Yasmina Khadra, opens in theaters on
June 21 from Cohen Media Group. Below, Doueiri shares one of his favorite sequences from the film.
Official synopsis per Cohen Media: Amin Jaafari is an Israeli
Palestinian surgeon, fully assimilated into Tel Aviv society. He has a
loving wife, an exemplary career, and many Jewish friends. But his
picture perfect life is turned upside down when a suicide bombing in a
restaurant leaves nineteen dead, and the Israeli police inform him that
his wife Sihem, who also died in the explosion, was responsible.
Convinced of her innocence, Amin abandons the relative security of his
adopted homeland and enters the Palestinian territories in pursuit of
the truth. Once there, he finds himself in ever more dangerous places
and situations. Determined, he presses on seeking answers to questions
he never thought he would be asking.
The shot starts with Amin, seen from the back, and the camera pulls away slowly revealing Tel Aviv. This is the only dolly shot I used in the entire film. I used the dolly shot to “enter” his mind slowly. The next scene is in a motel. Amin at this point is unable to return to his house, now that his wife is not there. I searched for many motels in Tel Aviv hoping to find a more run-down motel, like those you find at a truck stop in Barstow California for example. But I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted. I lived and worked 18 years in California, and American scenery left an incredible impact on how I see my films. I keep using little Americana in my films.
In this sequence, we had to rebuild their story from the first moment they met, in his tiny apartment in Tel Aviv. I asked the set designer to include cactuses and wrote the scene around this Melo-cactus. I have been collecting cactuses for years. I was always fascinated by these strange plants. I own around 150 of them. Sihem, the protagonist’s wife, approaches the plant, then pokes her finger in one of its thorns and bleeds. We wanted to show that she carries an oddity about her, a strangeness and maybe a little addiction to inflicting wounds. That’s part of who she is, and it’s later revealed in a clearer more concise way, especially after her husband’s idealistic image of her breaks down.
This scene actually comes after the protagonist, Dr. Amin Jaafari, is released from a grueling interrogation by the Israeli secret services; they couldn’t prove that he was aware of the crime his wife committed. Amin, at this point, believes in his wife’s innocence and that her death occurred because she happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The trickiest part during the writing of the script with the co-screenwriter, Joelle Touma, was to actually figure out the wife’s dramatic needs. We spent a few months rewriting her scenes and tried several ways to pin-point and give her THE reason why she blew herself up in a restaurant. But the more we gave her clear reasons, the duller that character became. We didn’t believe that one can commit a suicide bombing of that sort simply because she had one motive. Suicide bombers, especially female, have many complex reasons as to why they commit such a horrific act, be it political, social and psychological ones. Finally we opted to bury her with her mysteries, till the end. Amin at this point in the film, believes in her innocence, and his memories of her reflect that. All her scenes in the film are reconstructed in his memories because from the beginning of the film, she died. I remember writing these scenes listening to William Orbit’s terrific album, “Pieces In A modern Style,” which is Orbit’s interpretation of classical music. It was very inspiring also to listen to Moby’s “HOTEL” album and Brian Eno’s “Another Day On Earth.”