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CANNES 2019 Competition

Elia Suleiman • Director of It Must Be Heaven

“The class and economic gap, migration, anxiety and violence – that’s what this film is about, basically”


- CANNES 2019: We sat down with Palestinian director Elia Suleiman to delve deeper into his Palme d’Or contender It Must Be Heaven

Elia Suleiman  • Director of It Must Be Heaven

It Must Be Heaven [+see also:
film review
interview: Elia Suleiman
film profile
is Elia Suleiman’s third film to appear in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. It continues the adventures of the mute character that Suleiman himself plays, and who walks around observing the many absurdities of the world surrounding him. In his previous films, this Palestinian Jacques Tati has stayed in his homeland, but in It Must Be Heaven he travels to Paris and New York, only to find out that everywhere is just as strange and complex as back home.

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Cineuropa: It Must Be Heaven sees you trying to get to the essence of what it means to be not just Palestinian, but an outsider. Did you feel you had to move away from the Arab-Israeli conflict in this film?
Elia Suleiman:
 No, I did not try that at all. I think I was just trying to say that the conflict has extended its tentacles to everywhere else around the world and that there's a global “Palestinianisation” of the state of things. That's basically what this film is trying to indicate, actually. I mean, the state of exception, the police state and the violence are now like a familiar common ground everywhere we go. So the tension and the anxiety are now practically everywhere and it's no longer just a local conflict. 

Why did you choose Paris and New York? 
For the very, very simple reason – almost as simple as I am – that I did not want to make the movie in places I'm unfamiliar with. I have done this once before, and it was great. New York and Paris are two places where I've lived for a long time – you know, 14 years here and 14 years there – so I'm familiar with the humour and the ambiance of those places. 

The scenes in Paris stand out because you shot with the streets completely devoid of people and cars. Why did you make this choice?
To bear the bare bones of Paris is to reveal the underclass, to reveal the oppressed, the homeless, the poor, the Arabs being chased by the police, the police state. I wanted to make that really apparent and not realistic, of course, and to do that, I needed to do what I did. Somehow, I was always hoping that if I did that, the question to be asked about the state of things would become more prominent than it would have been if I had made it with animation, or with realism of some sort.

The first time we see Paris, it’s a picture-postcard version of the city, and then you show the cleaners. Did you intend to show that there is a collective diaspora of people being pushed down by Europe and America?
I didn't intend to say that; it is simply evident. Basically, the class and economic gap, migration, anxiety and violence – that’s what this film is about. It's about discrimination. It's about downgrading by colour. That’s what this film is trying to reveal, and it's connecting all of this back to colonialism.

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