It Must Be Heaven
Palestinian comedy It Must Be Heaven follows its director (Elia Suleiman) from Nazareth to Paris to New York, silently observing the world around him in all its absurdist folly. Suleiman cuts a smart, whimsical figure in his hat and glasses, somewhere between Buster Keaton and Mr Benn. A full hour passes before the viewer discovers that the purpose of his trip is to secure funding for his new film (this film), and then another ten minutes until one hears him speak.
One character rejects the film for being “not Palestinian enough”; another introduces Suleiman as “a Palestinian filmmaker but he makes funny films” (the expectation being that he would make worthy political dramas). If it means anything, It Must Be Heaven is about conformity. Every frame is even and symmetrical, but their contents are skewed. Through the protagonist’s bemused eyes, one sees a series of comic vignettes – almost Trigger Happy TV-style micro-satires of modern city life.
Some are surrealist sight gags, such as the Palestinian waiter who presents Suleiman with a wine bottle for his approval, despite it not having a label. Others are more direct parodies of modernity, such as the Parisian police weaving around on electric unicycles or the Americans shopping for groceries with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders. Mostly though they convey the strange similarity of all three locations, confirming the “not Palestinian enough” guy’s accusation that the film could be taking place anywhere.
Recurring subjects include street cleaners, buskers and emergency services, though they never seem to be doing much of use. In Paris a set of armed officers takes measurements of the café where the director sits; in New York they chase a “Free Palestine” protestor through a procession of women exercising with prams to a Leonard Cohen song.
The result is quietly political and oddly comforting, the clean, balanced photography mirroring the gentle geometry of Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. This clever use of symmetry and silence makes for a charming, hopeful and nonconforming picture that finds continuity in the absurd.
It Must Be Heaven is released in select cinemas on 18th June 2021.
Watch the trailer for It Must Be Heaven here: