VOD film review: It Must Be Heaven
James R | On 19, Jun 2021
Director: Elia Suleiman
Cast: Elia Suleiman
Where to watch It Must Be Heaven online in the UK: BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Sky Store
“We’d love to work with you, but it’s not Palestinian enough.” Those are the words of a Parisian producer to Elia Suleiman in It Must Be Heaven. The film features the Palestinian once again playing himself, as he journeys from his home around the world – and takes us along for the ride.
By shifting focus from Palestinians at home to this particular Palestinian abroad, It Must Be Heaven sees Suleiman ask questions less about the Palestinian experience and more about how the rest of the world views that experience. Everywhere he goes, he’s met with presumption and stereotypes. In America, a cab driver is excited to have a Palestinian from Nazareth in his back seat but has no real interest in Suleiman as a person beyond that. In France, potential backers of his latest project expect his work to be angry and explicitly politicised.
A late cameo from one actor – also playing themselves – makes a serious point, but with a lightness of touch that’s in keeping with Suleiman’s deft grasp of comic tone. That featherweight approach is maintained through a string of cute vignettes, which balance surreal incidents with sobering flashes of recognisable elements of everyday life in Palestine. Tanks roll through one city’s streets. People in America walk through supermarkets with rifles. In Paris, cops ride up and down the street on hoverboards, spinning and revolving in an almost balletic display.
Throughout, Suleiman remains mostly silent, his camera cutting between the absurdities on display and his own quizzical expression – a Buster Keaton-esque mask of deadpan bemusement. The result may feel slight, but it’s also undeniably personal and rooted in first-hand experiences. This is a man who, as one tarot card-reading scene suggests, has a pessimistic view of how long the Israel/Palestine conflict will continue for – but also finds a joy in the way that life at home, even when faced with the kind of behaviour that disrupts life in other countries, continues to dance on regardless.