Dr. Sean Carter
Geography, University of Exeter
Clip: Divine Intervention (dir. Elia Suleiman, France/Palestine, 2002)
The scene chosen is one that is briefly discussed in the ‘Borders’ chapter from my 2014 book Film and International Politics (co-authored with Klaus Dodds). In that book we articulated three key ideas on the relation between film and international politics; the performativity of international politics, the spatialisation of political practice, and the role of the visual. Understood in this way, many films can be seen as normalising the dominant political architecture of international politics – a world composed of states with their sovereign domains and borders. Divine Intervention is an interesting film in the way that it consciously attempts to unsettle these idea of borders and bordering practices. It does so through the use of moments of both surrealism and humour that effectively disarm the material power of state territorialities, at least in an imaginative sense.
The ‘balloon scene’ in particular is particularly effective in this regard. As the director Elie Suleiman noted himself about this scene, “The soldier in the roadblock can catch me, but he cannot capture my imagination…you don’t need an identity card or passport to cross the border in your imagination” (cited in Gertz and Khleifi 2007: 133). The mundane object of the balloon (with the embossed face of Arafat) not only works imaginatively but also materially in reminding audiences that visual transgressions can unsettle the claims of the state to be able to survey and to intervene in the naming of controlling their national territories. In this sense, I see this film as contributing to theme of ‘Bordering Strangeness’ not so much through the register of ‘the stranger’, but more through a reflection on the contingency and ‘strangeness’ of the border itself.