nobody movie_Film review: The documentary “The Will to See” – Muckraking, Fierce and Absorbing

By Gerald Peary

We get fooled again and again The will to see to places where normal reporters never dare, let alone moviegoers.

The Will to See: Dispatches from a World of Misery and Hope, directed by Bernard-Henri Lévy and Marc Roussel. Screening at the Kendall Square Cinema.

A scene out The Will to See: Dispatches from a World of Misery and Hope. Photo: Marc Roussel.

The most compelling and important film showing at Boston’s Kendall Square Cinema is one that no one knows, not even reviewed globe. Unfortunately, I was the only person in the audience for Bernard-Henri Levy’s terrific bastard documentary, The Will to See: Dispatches from a World of Misery and Hope, in which the famous French philosopher travels the world and ends up in horrifying places devastated by devastating wars. These usually go unnoticed in the West. We see him in Nigeria and Somalia, Libya and Bangladesh, among other places, and in a slave-like refugee camp off the West African coast. He visits the Kurds in both Syria and Kurdistan, and since the film was shot a few years ago, Afghanistan just before the Taliban took power again, and Ukraine, already in ruins after the first Russian invasion before all came en masse to their rescue.

For these trips, Levy was funded by Paris match Provide stories and photos. But unlike self-proclaimed “objective” reporters, Levy takes sides in wars, and does so in a completely open, public way. He becomes close friends with the politicians he endorses, and he strongly advocates what he believes are the right causes. His mentors: Camus and Sartre, although Levy himself has been fighting the necessary battle for more than forty years. He was there at the moment of Bangladesh’s independence and when Libya toppled Gaddafi. He was in Afghanistan starting a newspaper when the Russians invaded. For many years he has been a driving force behind the Kurds in their courageous struggles against the Turks, the Syrian government and IS. His arch-enemies: Putin, Erdogan, Islamic fundamentalists. In this film at least, Levy refrains from attacking America, even where criticism is as obvious as in Donald Trump’s ruthless betrayal of the Kurds. He also noticeably ends up in Israel and quickly leaves, which makes us wonder how he, as a Jew, feels about the Palestinian right.

parts of The will to see Play like a true-life suspense thriller. The film crew is threatened by a mercenary with a machete as Levy uncovers the killings of Christians by Boko Haram in Nigeria. He is assured he will be protected in present-day Libya, but the car carrying him is shot at by a passing car and there is a chase through the streets as exciting as Hitchcock. The reason he is almost killed: to cleanse Libya of Levy the Jew.

We get fooled again and again The will to see to places where normal reporters never dare, let alone moviegoers. There is an extraordinary sequence where Levy’s military friends in Kurdistan grant him access to their secret prison of the captive Isis. The French philosopher is allowed to lecture in front of the prisoners’ male children and teaches them how to be teachers to their parents. He explains to these young Muslims that he is a Jew who believes in a people including Muslims and Christians. Also a visit to the bowels of prison to interrogate a Frenchman who had earlier joined Isis. Scary. This creepy maniac is like someone scurrying in the dirt about Kurtz at Conrad’s heart of darkness.

Editor’s note: There is also a print version of The will to see available from Yale University Press. Salman Rushdie calls it “a passionate, engaging book that combines philosophy, wartime reporting, and autobiography to explore the creation of a brilliant and courageous mind.”


Gerald Peary is professor emeritus at Suffolk University, Boston, former curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and editor of the Conversations with Filmmakers series at the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenixhe is the author of nine books on cinema, author and director of documentaries For the Love of Film: The History of American Film Criticism and Archie’s Bettyand a lead actor in the 2013 independent narrative computer chess. His latest documentary The rabbi goes westco-directed by Amy Geller, has played at film festivals around the world.

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