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Wife’s secret life haunts a Palestinian in ‘The Attack’

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Amin Ali Suliman

Siham Reymonde Amsellem

Raveed Dvir Benedek

Cohen Media Group presents a film directed by Ziad Doueiri and written by Doueiri, Joelle Touma and Yasmina Khadra. In Hebrew, Arabic and English, with English subtitles. Running time: 102 minutes. Rated R (for some violent images, language and brief sexuality). Opens Friday at Landmark’s Century Cinema and Renaissance Place Cinema.

Updated: August 27, 2013 6:06AM

What is in the heart and mind of someone? Not just anyone, but the love of your life. How does one know?

That philosophical question is posed in “The Attack.” Amin (Ali Suliman) must find out why his wife Sihem (Reymonde Amsellem) turned into a suicide bomber who kills 17 and maims others. Adapting Yasmina Khadra’s 2005 novel, director Ziad Doueiri crafts a moving portrait of the couple’s interknit pathways: Amin’s quest to uncover Sihem’s secret extremism.

Doueiri opens with the Israeli Society of Surgeons honoring Amin with its annual award, the first in its 41-year history to go to a Palestinian Israeli. Just before stepping on stage in Tel Aviv, he takes a call from his wife. He thinks she is visiting her grandfather in Nazareth. He saw her get on the bus, but not get off. Later he learns she was in Nablus, preparing to strap on a bomb. Raveed (Dvir Benedek), a friend and Shin Bet agent, will tell him she made that eight-second call using a highly encrypted cell phone.

Sihem is not shown blowing herself up in Tel Aviv restaurant during a children’s birthday party. Amin, however, sees the victims rushed to his hospital. One bloody survivor refuses treatment by an Arab. “I want another doctor!” he screams from his gurney.

Hours later Raveed wakes up Amin to return to the hospital and identify Sihem’s remains. After she is named on the news, vandals spray paint “Child Killer” on the outside of their expensive home.

“The Attack” personalizes the politics and politicizes the personalities. Amin is suspect in the eyes of liberal Israelis, Palestinian militants and orthodox Christians alike. “It must be strange, living among them,” a Nablus resident tells the visitor from Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, Amin lives with flashbacks to his marriage and apparitions by the woman he thought he knew.

In Doueiri’s 2004 film “Lila Says,” set in the Arab quarter of Marseilles, a private journal explains the disconnect between a 16-year-old girl’s inner and outer lives. In “The Attack,” Sihem is reading “Out of Place,” scholar Edward Said’s memoir as a Palestinian and a Christian. That book could be a clue. Reading between the lines, Amin recalls his wife saying, “Every time you leave a part of me dies.” A cabdriver tries to start up a conversation with the loaded expression: “If I don’t talk, I explode.”

Doueiri, who directed the “Immigrant” episode in the Showtime series “Sleeper Cell,” shows Israeli authorities questioning Amin. “Fake seculars” and “perfect facade” is how the assimilated couple is perceived. Sihem did fake pregnancy to hide her bomb. And we discover that she began courting Amin by lying about her bruise from falling off a horse.

Amin comes to know, if not endorse, Sihem’s terrifying choices. “The Attack” is not just about an incident targeting Israelis. This is also the story of not knowing Palestinians.

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