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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, February 24, 2003
    Divine Intervention at FACT
     
    There we go. It's been seven years in the making. It cost £10m to develop, build and equip, and it's the first purpose-built arts project in Liverpool for over 60 years. And tonight I stepped into FACT, the cityÕs shining new cinema / multimedia centre for a first look.

    Although the dedicated folk at The Plaza, CrosbyÕs community-run cinema, keep ÔarthouseÕ films on their agenda, LiverpoolÕs not had a proper art cinema for a few years. So FACT is very welcome. And itÕs doubly welcome as part of the city centreÕs renovation, on the site of a derelict warehouse in a quarter of town which is being well transformed into a lively living and entertainment space.

    ThatÕs the official line, of course, and begs some questions. The council could do with speeding up the regeneration of outer estates like Norris Green, whose people are crying out for long-time promises to be fulfilled. But it is good to see the centre coming alive. And tonight it was good to see a quality film in a quality seat in a gleaming new building.

    Most FACT first-timers are seeing scouse director Alex CoxÕs made-in-Liverpool Revengers Tragedy which does look good with Christopher Eccleston and Eddie Izzard bringing the Jacobean horror-comedy bang up to date.

    But I opted for another, whose short run ends tonight, Divine Intervention, a darkly comic portrait of life in present-day Israel-Palestine. ItÕs very good, an odd mix of slice-of-life realism and astonishing flights of fantasy, directed by Elia Suleiman who also takes the lead role, a character (ES) based on himself. The blurb describes it well:
      ES is burdened with a sick father, a stalled screenplay and an unrequited love affair with a beautiful Palestinian woman (Manal Khader) living in Ramallah. An Israeli checkpoint on the Nazareth-Ramallah road forces the couple to rendezvous in an adjacent parking lot. Their relationship and the absurd situations around them serve as metaphors for the lunacy of larger cultural problems, and the result is palpable, bottled personal and political rage.
    You come out feeling the tension of the brutalised cross-border communities, and thrilled by some wonderful visual stunts, the most memorable perhaps being the balloon ES releases from his car which floats gently over the checkpoint guards, causing chaos and consternation as on it is printed the image of Yasser Arafat.

    In an interview, Suleiman said that Israeli cinephiles loved Divine Intervention. In the wider Israeli community it probably makes a few more more waves than that, but itÕs a treat. FACTÕs a Picturehouse cinema. If thereÕs one near you, thatÕs one art film worth seeing. For starters.