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'The Attack' Depicts Opposing Sides In Middle East Violence


Director Ziad Doueiri got his start in movies in Hollywood working on Quentin Tarantino films. When he began directing his own movies, Doueiri drew on his real-life experience with violence as a child growing up in war-torn Beirut. His newest film is called "The Attack." It's part-love story, part-politically charged mystery. At its heart is a happily married doctor, a Palestinian-Israeli living in Tel Aviv, whose perfect life is shattered when his wife is killed in a suicide bombing. It turns into a nightmare when he has to confront the unthinkable that she is the bomber. Ziad Doueiri, thank you very much for joining us.

ZIAD DOUEIRI: Thank you. My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Let's begin with your main character. His name is Dr. Amin Jaafari. He is living this comfortable life. He's just won a big award for his work as a doctor. And suddenly, everything changes when his wife dies. And he finds himself being interrogated by, you know, Israeli authorities because they figure he has to know something about what his wife was doing. Let's listen to a scene.


DOUEIRI: For the last three days since his arrest, they have been grilling him with questions because he's a prime suspect. And the interrogator tells him how could a woman, very well established and very well integrated in Israeli society with a lot of friends - most of them are Jews - can commit such a horrific act like that. And he tells him your wife didn't just commit suicide bombing; she violated all the trust that Israel has in its Arab citizen. In that point in the film, the doctor is totally believing in his wife's innocence, so he's in denial, in perfect denial.

MONTAGNE: He was in a peculiar position, as well. He is looking at forensic evidence, the kind of evidence that, as a doctor, he's been trained to trust.

DOUEIRI: But when you lost somebody, you could deny. You could always come up with any explanation.

MONTAGNE: Well, you don't shy away from showing one bit of violence, and that is we see her body concealed by a sheet. It's actually quite shocking, because...

DOUEIRI: Were you shocked when you saw the body?

MONTAGNE: Oh, I was very shocked. What you can see is, there's only just half a body there.

DOUEIRI: Yeah. This is how it starts. This is the unraveling of this horrific crime.

MONTAGNE: There are a lot of shocking details about the attack. Small children were killed. We see a flashback of a little birthday party of very little kids. And - so you do get this idea that she walked into a restaurant, could have looked around to see who was there and who was going to die with her. As he tries to figure this out, he heads for his own family's hometown, Nablus. There is a moment where he is startled to find her viewed differently in Nablus. Let's just play the scene.


MONTAGNE: The little boy on the street is trying to sell him...

DOUEIRI: Paraphernalia, like cigarette lighters with Arafat, you know, little gizbos(ph). The doctor says, look, I'm not interested to buy anything from you. He said, oh, come on, please, why don't you buy something and I will give you this for free.


DOUEIRI: And he shows him little photograph of his wife.


DOUEIRI: I mean, Jaafari, this doctor, sees posters of his wife glued all over the Nablus. And you know in the Arab world when you die as a martyr, they immediately hang posters of you on all the walls. He does not believe that his wife is a hero, while the Palestinians believe that, yes, she is a hero.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. There's this whole other picture of her. He's just left Israel and he walks into a situation where he looks around and there's she is, beautiful pictures of her all around and everybody in awe of her.

DOUEIRI: Well, there's this saying: somebody's hero is another person's terrorist or someone's terrorist. I mean, if there is one topic in the world that divide people, that is probably the Middle Eastern conflict. It is so polarized. I'm trying to look at it from a different perspective.

MONTAGNE: Well, in the film, which it is very complicated - the complex motives and whatnot - you do get the impression that the two sides, that they are fixed in their views. There's nobody, except possibly Dr. Jaafari, who is trying to find some sort of truth or understanding of what's going on.

DOUEIRI: You know, Renee, I grew up in Beirut. I lived through many battles - the 1973, I was young; in 1982 with the Israeli invasions, and 2006 between Hezbollah and Israel. Before I emigrated to the States in '83, I had my own very black and white views of the Israelis and the Jews in general. But you start to understand that no matter what you think, there are two perspective. It's a long process that lasts many, many years of thinking and sitting down with a Jew at a university campus when I was in San Diego and debating and talking, and then, you know, grabbing a coffee together and then having a cigarette together. And you start understanding that, especially this conflict, above any other conflict, is very, very complex. I always try to look at it from a fair point of view. It's not easy, because the reality is constantly reminding you that if you take one side, that means you're 100 percent against the other side.

MONTAGNE: Dr. Jaafari, he's still confused at the end, but he has some better understanding of why she might have done what she did.

DOUEIRI: Yes, he does, because he's still in love with her. You understand? I mean, "The Attack" is a love story. And during the writing and the editing, when we start putting music and everything, we tried to take the film away from the conflict and more into the love story. Did he understand everything about her? No. She gets buried with her mystery. We tried, in earlier versions of this script, to give her a reason. Because, you know, in film, you got to give your spectator some kind of a satisfying answer. And we find out, the more we try to give her answers, the less the script was working.

MONTAGNE: What were the answers that didn't satisfy?

DOUEIRI: For example, we said what if she did it because she screwed up her career? We said what if she did it because her mother, while she was delivering her as a child, her mother died on an Israeli checkpoint. What if she's bipolar? And all those reason were just making her one-dimensional. It would not work.

MONTAGNE: Now, "The Attack" is banned in Lebanon. But is it possible that it will be shown in the Palestinian territories and Israel?

DOUEIRI: It is going to show in Israel, July 5th. I think the Palestinian territories must abide by the Arab League decision, which the Arab League asked all the 22 Arab countries to ban the film. So, the film's is actually not only banned in Beirut and Lebanon; it's banned in all the Arab countries.

MONTAGNE: And your hope would be that the film would show in Lebanon and maybe, at some point, in other Arab countries.

DOUEIRI: I believe this film opens in the United States tonight. Tomorrow, it will be Beirut in pirated copy. So, people are going to see it.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for talking with us.

DOUEIRI: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Ziad Doueiri's new movie is called "The Attack" and it opens in select theaters today; more widely, later this summer.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.