Jacques Tati was perhaps the greatest of all film comedians. Through his films (which featured him in silent performances), he effectively dissected everything wrong about modern society and the alienation humanity experienced as technology took over the world. Elia Suleiman, for all of his talents, is no Tati.
It Must Be Heaven follows Elia Suleiman (playing himself) as he journeys around the world, starting off in his homeland of Palestine before venturing to Paris, and finally arriving to New York City. As he travels and works on a film about the Palestinian experience, he comes across a variety of bizarre characters and situations, including rollerblading police officers, a persistent sparrow who just wants to help him type on his laptop, and yoga moms who exercise with their babies in strollers. As the insanity builds, Elia tries to discover where he belongs in the world as both a Palestinian and as a filmmaker.
There’s a lot to admire about the film, including Suleiman’s performance. He has all but two lines, but his subtle movements and blank, unyielding facial movements provides several comedic moments. The satire of Paris and New York is surface level, but when it works, it’s genuinely hilarious. Unfortunately, many of the gags run for too long and are simply too on the nose for them to be amusing (such as a moment when it’s revealed that every citizen of New York City carries outlandish guns). It Must Be Heaven is a failed experiment, though it’s certainly an admirable and respectable one. Unfortunately, Suleiman’s excellent physical comedy cannot save a meandering script filled with misconceived satire.
It Must Be Heaven screened at the 55th Chicago International Film Festival as part of the Masters and Comedy programs. The film will screen again on Sunday October 20th at 8:30pm at AMC River East 21.