(Canada, 98 min.)
Dir. Julien Fréchette
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)
Does the fog of war also cloud over a war documentary? That seems to be the case with My War, Julien Fréchette’s jumbled, uninsightful documentary about Western volunteers who signed up to fight ISIS in the Syrian conflict.
The film opens with the funeral service for William Savage, a 27-year-old American who died in Syria fighting alongside Kurdish forces against the Islamic State in Syria. It bounces to a group of Kurdish soldiers in the field in Syria, arguing whether killing is a religious obligation or a prohibition. From there, we jump to Quebec, where a young Canadian soldier, with the single name of Wadi, is in the woods, practicing shooting with a home-made target, a picture of a fighter in front of an ISIS flag.
Wadi is a Canadian army Afghanistan war veteran, who signs up to fight in Syria fighting alongside Kurdish soldiers. The Kurds offer training, but no transport, so he’s crowd-sourcing the trip, intending to do double duty as a solider and videographer. He shows the filmmakers the web site for The Lions of Rojava, Western volunteer soldiers working with the Kurds. On Facebook, he scrolls past a woman from Vancouver who calls herself Tiger Sun.
The film takes us to her, real name Hanna Bohman, a former model in her mid-forties, sitting down for an interview on the Quebec show called Les Francs-Tireurs, where the host asks her, bluntly, if she’s right in the head. Hanna is determined to go to Syria and become part of an all-woman’s militia unit. She’s bored and feels lost in Canada, so why not go to war?
For Wadi, the motive for joining up is simple. The military life is an adventure he’s used to (he tells a friend it’s like backpacking in Europe, except that “you occasionally shoot people.”) He’s excited about making his video involving big explosions and devastation. Wadi has no emotional difficulties around the subject, and settles easily into Syria.
For Hanna, it’s more complex: After she arrives in Syria, she gets progressively more disillusioned, loses weight, becomes anxious to get her “kill on” and begins regarding the enemy as not people but “things.” Hanna does not seem well.
The National Film Board synopsis describes My War as an intimate portrait of four volunteers, though that implies more structure than is apparent here. There’s a marginal character named Thierry, a middle-aged French man, who has a few scenes, and says, bluntly, that he has no altruistic motive but likes the lifestyle. There’s also an articulate young American Afghanistan vet, named Rebaz, who says he’s kind of messed up but doesn’t explain how. Toward the end of the film he goes “off the map.” No one seems to know why. Then there’s a fifth, unidentified soldier near the end of the film, in some unidentified military-looking building, who complains that he feels the Western volunteers have served little purpose in Syria, except to serve as propaganda tools.
If My War’s message is that war equals confusion plus futility, you could possibly argue that it succeeds.
My War screens:
-Tues, May 1 at 12:30 PM at TIFF Lightbox
-Thurs, May 3 at 3:30 Pm at Scotiabank
Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit hotdocs.ca for more info.