An unrecognizable monster

Ali Suliman , in "The Attack," portrays Amin, an Israeli surgeon of secular Palestinian background who discovers that his wife has become a suicide bomber. Cohen Media Group

The Attack opens like a love story, with a woman telling her husband that every time they separate, "a part of me dies." In light of what happens next, those words take on another, more ominous meaning.

Set in Tel Aviv and the West Bank town of Nablus, the taut but messily honest tale is the story of Amin (Ali Suliman), a prominent Israeli surgeon of secular Palestinian background. He wakes up one morning to discover that his beautiful wife Siham (Reymond Amsalem) has become a suicide bomber, responsible for blowing herself up in a restaurant, along with 17 other victims, including 11 children celebrating a birthday. It's 3 a.m. when Amin gets the call to identify his wife's body, or what's left of it. The grisly fact that there's not much left of Siham from the rib cage down is pretty much all the incriminating evidence that the police need.

That doesn't stop Amin, who is also initially cast under suspicion, from believing there must be some mistake. As it becomes increasingly obvious that the mistake was his - in overlooking whatever clues there might have been to Siham's secret life as a Palestinian terrorist - he sets out to answer a difficult question: "How do you make a fundamentalist monster out of a woman who wouldn't hurt a fly?"

The search takes him to Nazareth, where his wife was from, and then to Nablus, where she spent the last night of her life. What he ends up finding along the way are only more questions.

Based on a 2006 novel by former Algerian military officer Mohammed Moulessehoul, who writes under the female pseudonym Yasmina Khadra, the film has been banned in almost all Arab countries because of a boycott request by the Arab League. Officially, that request is the result of Lebanese-born director Ziad Doueiri's decision to film in Israel, but it's just as likely that the League's concern arises from a perception that the story refuses to demonize that country or the people who live there.

What's probably more accurate to say is that The Attack spreads the blame around for what is undeniably a nasty situation, any way you look at it.

On one level, The Attack is a mystery, but not the kind you think. It's obvious from the start who detonated the bomb; the only question is why.

It's a question that probably cannot be answered to the satisfaction of anyone living outside Israel or the occupied territories. If the lack of closure seems frustrating to American viewers, it's something of a consolation to know that it also seems that way to Amin.

The Attack ***  (3 out of four stars)

Directed by Ziad Doueiri<WC1>. <WC>With Ali Suliman, Evgenia Dodena, and Reymond Amsalem. In Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles. Distributed by Cohen Media.
Running time: 1 hour, 42 mins.
Parent’s guide: R<WC1> <WC>(grisly images, profanities, nudity and sensuality)
Playing at: Ritz Five

The Attack

Directed by Ziad Doueiri. With Ramzi Makdessi, Reymond Amsalem, Evgenia Dodena, Ruba Salameh, Ali Suliman, Karim Saleh, Uri Gavriel, Dvir Benedek. Distributed by Cohen Media Group.

Running time: 1 hours, 42 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for some violent images, language and brief sexuality).