The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - IT MUST BE HEAVEN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - IT MUST BE HEAVEN

It Must Be Heaven review
Elia Suleiman observes life in a variety of locales.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Elia Suleiman

Starring: Elia Suleiman, Ali Suliman, François Girard, Gael García Bernal, Nancy Grant, Guy Sprang, Stephen McHattie

It Must Be Heaven poster

Within the multi-faceted narrative of Marvel comics, there is a character called The Watcher. An extra-terrestrial being who essentially looks like a big massive baby in a blue robe, Uatu’s role within the comics is to passively observe and record significant moments in the Marvel universe. So, you know, he rocks up when Galactus threatens the planet, or that time when Black Panther and Storm got married (power couple!). The Watcher’s dictum is closely adhered to: ‘Whatever transpires, I will remain true to my charge, and observe all that occurs’; occurrences which are usually of monumental cosmic significance.

Imagine, though, if The Watcher wasn’t a huge alien infant, but was instead the fragile form of Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman. Instead of purposefully appearing at major moments within an overarching fictional narrative, he drifts across a twee representation of the globe in order to arrive in New York to meet regarding finance for his new film. Then swap the mute surveillance of cosmic happenings for the nebbish Suleiman silently watching wry moments of human interaction which have subtly symbolic relevance to the situation in the Middle East, and you’ve got It Must Be Heaven.

It Must Be Heaven review

A quick scan of reviews for It Must Be Heaven give a positive reaction for this film, but one word of caution does seem to persist: ‘patience’. You need ‘patience’ for this film, as the quizzical Suleiman watches his neighbour help himself to lemons from the tree in our hero’s yard; as the plaintive Suleiman sits across from twin brothers in a bar complaining about their order; while the stoic Suleiman watches some bloke take a piss against a wall.

Should watching a film necessitate the audience possess a quality which is so rarefied Western religion holds it up as near to saintliness? If you’re part of the so-called MTV generation then this film is going to end up a bit of a slog, a cinematic stare out competition as the silent Suleiman endlessly wanders through empty cityscapes to look at, for instance, a couple of road sweepers playing an ersatz game of golf with their brushes and some trash.

It Must Be Heaven review

Like the recurring motif of militarism (tanks thundering about occasionally in the background, men marching) which threads throughout the film, the scene of the chap having a slash against the wall is indicative of the film’s whimsical symbolism. In the foreground some police harass an innocent man, while this micturate act of civil disobedience is ignored within the same frame. Those who enact the law are flawed, and are duly committed to harassment, rather than safeguarding. Police are ubiquitous in It Must Be Heaven. We see them prancing about in formation upon segways, and, more sinisterly, driving alongside the vacant Suleiman on the highway with a blindfolded woman in the back. Authority is both menacing and frivolous in It Must Be Heaven’s sledgehammer ideologies.

Could this last scene be a comment on how women in Palestine are cut from political and personal discourse? It is difficult to tell, as the imagery in It Must Be Heaven is poetic rather than polemic. Abstract and suggestive, not direct and demonstrative. And, anyway, the portrayal of women is at times a bit cringe otherwise. We see the deadpan Suleiman checking out a parade of admittedly very fit women of all creeds and colours while at a Parisian café with Nina Simone playing on the soundtrack. It's meant to be cute, but to me it seemed a bit improper. Just as when the gawping Suleiman spies on various women going about their business from his hotel room. The sedate Suleiman is like a boater wearing Brian De Palma character who unfortunately just ends up voyeuring a cleaner or someone watching television instead of something interesting like shagging or a murder.

It Must Be Heaven review

Within his body of film, critics have likened the passive Suleiman to Keaton or Tati. However, the character which the slightly annoying Suleiman, with his open-eyed double takes and pseudo-stoned disassociation, reminded me most of was Kevin Smith’s Silent Bob, with all his goonish muggings. Just as with that character, the shtick here also wears a bit thin.

Nonetheless, it is clear why It Must Be Heaven was warmly received at Cannes 2019. There is a mannered, neat artistry to the photography, and an immersion evident especially in the early ‘lemon stealing’ tableaus where you can almost feel the warm Nazarene breeze soft lifting the citrus scents. The imagery is precociously absurdist, the abstracted narrative clever-but-not-too-clever. Plenty to like, I suppose. But, of all the hundreds of four colour chancers who were published and pulped, I think there is a reason why the perennially backgrounded The Watcher never starred in a comic-book of his very own.

It Must Be Heaven is in UK/ROI cinemas from June 18th.

2021 movie reviews