Leave your politics at home; this Palestinian film doesn’t ask you to have an opinion on the conflict. All it wants for the world is merely to watch.
In It Must Be Heaven, Elia Suleiman finds witty parallels between his home and the rest of the world. The film is spliced into thirds, as he’s making his way from Palestine, through Paris and ultimately ending in New York. There is very little in terms of actual story, as the film is rather made up of scenes, each posing as a self-serving short. Audience is partly meant to project themselves onto Suleiman, who observes everything going on, rarely changing facial expressions, speaking or getting involved in any matter possible.
Palestine gets a refreshing portrayal, as it is stripped of political context, letting the country and its people speak through images portrayed and nothing more. The Palestinian-set first act of the film is charming, Suleiman gives an honest view into his country and it’s where his comedy succeeds the most. Eventually, as it moves out into the world, It Must be Heaven loses all life and momentum despite the stylish and detailed frame compositions of Sofian El Fani.
Based on available information, It Must Be Heaven is a comedy. To be honest, it plays like binge-watching a series of repetitive sketches. Suleiman makes clever observations about what the world is like, but doesn’t bother with adding anything to it or building on what he’s seeing. These jokes have a thought behind them, which is presented in the setup and that’s where it ends. Very rarely is there a form of a punchline, which accentuates the situation. It is no secret that the Americans own guns or that the French pay attention to their fashion. Just pointing this out does not make the scene inherently comic.
If there was an ideal prototype for (high-end) festival-friendly comedy, it would most likely look a lot like this. It Must Be Heaven has an intriguing idea worth talking about at its core that is continuously let down by the latter two thirds of the film. Elia Suleiman’s mute and charming performance carries a film that never becomes more than the sum of its parts.