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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We've been tracking the progress of a film set in the Middle East, in the West Bank city of Nablus. The film is called "Paradise Now." It was a sensation of the Berlin Film Festival, winning three awards. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan says its incendiary subject matter ensures that controversy will follow the movie here.

KENNETH TURAN reporting:

"Paradise Now" is a powerful and provocative drama about the nightmare of terrorism. It gets its strength from its dispassion, from its uncompromising determination to explain rather than justify, to put a human face on incomprehensible acts. "Paradise Now" is an anomaly in a movie world that is happy to see terrorists as conveniently hooded and hackneyed villains. Palestinian-born director Hany Abu-Assad understands that if we don't realize that recognizable human beings do these acts, we will have little chance of stopping them. Even more radical, this film has the nerve and skill to turn daily headlines into a heart-stopping story whose urgency is startling.

You may think you'll be seeing "Paradise Now" for its relevance, but its life-and-death drama is what will keep you transfixed. Even though we know "Paradise Now" focuses on the final hours and the lives of suicide bombers, when we meet two likeable young Palestinian men, our first reaction is, `It can't be them,' but it is them. There is a suicide mission scheduled for the very next day in Tel Aviv, and these two lifelong friends will get their expressed wish of carrying it out together. We gradually learn the personal and political reasons that have brought these men to a point in their lives where not having a meaningless death becomes a meaningful goal. Even if we completely disagree, we grasp why they say that, `Under the occupation, we're already dead, and life without dignity is worthless.'

We come to know and care about these two men, so the thought of their death and the deaths they are committed to inflict horrifies and saddens us. The scenario becomes increasingly terrifying, as personal and organizational forces come to bear on their decision in ways no one had anticipated. What makes "Paradise Now" so effective from beginning to end is its determination not to take sides, not even by so much as a wink. The human equation is always uppermost in director Abu-Assad's mind. This film understands how impossible it is to be an individual having to decide, starting with yourself, who shall live and who shall die. It is the question for our times.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews films for the Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION. "Paradise Now" opens in some cities today.

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