It Must Be Heaven

by Toby Woollaston

Verdict: A comedic misfire, yet curiously beautiful to watch.

It’ll only take five minutes before It Must Be Heaven will begin to irk you or provide you with a humorous antidote to your lockdown woes. This gentle, quirky, and very plot-thin film follows Palestinian director and writer Elia Suleiman’s (who plays himself) as he travels from Palestine to Paris and then to New York. He sits on porches, park benches, cafes, in office foyers, and quietly observes for long periods the people around him, noting through his bemused expression their peculiarities.

It Must Be Heaven is an oddity—an intensely observational film where for long silent intervals Suleiman stares down the barrel of the camera breaking the fourth wall, shepherding his audience to watch and react with him. His deadpan expressions and silent brand of physical humour evoke a sort of genteel Mr.Bean-on-valium quality and the episodic skits, many of which appear cynically allegorical in nature, oddly flirt with magical realism with mixed results. Synchronised Parisian police on electric unicycles, an angel on the run, and a bothersome sparrow, among other eccentricities all make up Suleiman’s peculiar brand of humour and whether this mould of absurd comedy works for you is subjective. Unfortunately for me, it outstayed its welcome and Suleiman’s constantly bewildered and confused expression became monotonous.

Despite this, there is something visually alluring about the film that allows you to forgive its humorous shortcomings. From the ebbing and flowing of Parisian streets to the heaving gun-toting metropolis of New York and to the quiet citrus-lined streets of Palestine—its visual scope is impressive and special credit must be given to cinematographer Sofian El Fani (who also shot the stunningly good Blue is the Warmest Colour), whose frame finds a visual commonality within the three locations, and with it some of the film’s core themes that Suleiman’s mistimed humour seemed to be searching for.

While the film’s absurdist charms did not work on me, I’ll guarantee It Must Be Heaven will be the uplifting antidote to this year’s drudgery for many. And if nothing else it’s certainly beautiful to watch.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.