Also Known as Jihadi

Will Tizard from Variety on the Opus Bonum selection Also Known as Jihadi byEric Baudelaire

Also Known as Jihadi (Eric Baudelaire, 2017)

From its opening shots of the French neighborhood in which the film’s subject presumably grew up, it’s clear that Eric Baudelaire is respectful of his audience’s intelligence and interest. That’s always a good bet at the Jihlava festival, if perhaps not as likely in the average civilian cinema hall.

But if the audience for Also Known as Jihadi never grows to vast crowds, that’s surely not important to the director. Baudelaire strives for the highest standards for those who are willing to hear him out, having enlisted the aid of the much-awarded Claire Atherton, the longtime collaborator of seminal French documentarian and social critic Chantal Akerman. Atherton’s distinctive work forms a huge part of this forensic account of the prosecution of an alleged, likely convicted, terrorist suspect. Aziz would have faced charges of supporting of Syrian rebel forces, as we see from the transcripts of his statements to investigators, psychological evaluations and a basic biography assembled by the authorities:

Age 25; Algerian origin, French nationality; medium height, stocky, athletic; thick beard ‘in the tradition of the Prophet’...

Our protagonist, who is never seen on camera, is known to us only through these official, impersonal records. They create palpable dissonance with the sounds of children’s laughter and tweeting birds along with images of peaceful, well-manicured parks, a school, a beach full of windblown kids. All of these are essential elements of Aziz’ world. The turning point is a trip he took ‘to help the Syrian people, as he tells an investigator, which the court has used to file his life away.

‘Can this entail taking arms?’ he’s asked.

A Salt Lake City-born a photographer and visual artist now based in Paris, Baudelaire screened his 2011 feature debut at Jihlava, The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi, and 27 Years without Images. That film, dedicated to the radical leftist group known as the Japanese Red Army, was followed in 2014 by Letters to Max, which also screened at Jihlava.

In Baudelaire’s most recent work, described as a travelogue from a country that doesn't exist, we see more footage of life on the streets. But these captured soldiers and the occasional parked tank, as a voiceover reads to us the duties and dilemmas of an ambassador for Abkhazia. He ironically explains that his work is only slightly different from that of an ambassador for a more recognized country, though he does confess that traveling on an Abkhazian passport can be tricky.

Baudelaire’s sense of absurdist humor is ever-present in his films, although it operates on a lower frequency in Also Known as Jihadi. The work is described as an homage to Masao Adachi’s influential 1969 film Ryakushô renzoku shasatsuma (A.K.A. Serial Killer) as well as the artist’s development of landscape theory, which suggests that studying the elements in someone’s environment leads to insights about them. But despite this far-off inspiration Baudelaire’s new film will certainly resonate with Central European audiences with a deep sense of Kafka in their DNA.

The carefully selected fragments from the court docket that record the evidence against Aziz, might just as well have been lifted from The Trial (although, admittedly, most official records assembled with the purpose of convicting a young man of trafficking in terrorism are surreal). Surely, there’s something inherently otherworldly about the state directing its security apparatus against a delivery driver and economics student, employing weeks of efforts by a small army of police, security forces, investigators, clerks, prosecutors and the judiciary, all for the supposed safeguarding of the homes and freedoms of the rest of us.

‘In religion, not everybody shares the same views,’ Aziz tries to explain to his prosecutors. In an age in which police in Western countries argue that they need tanks to keep our city streets safe, one wonders why he bothers. Perhaps he’s still young and naive enough to believe that reasoning with a machine just might influence the outcome it was built to produce.

The comment duly noted, this prosecution rolls on. We foolishly tell ourselves how fortunate we are to live in nations where the state must make an argument to explain the arrest and sentencing of a citizen. But if not for the careful cataloging of the state’s arguments, we would never get a glimpse of the gears and levers.

Nor would we feel, in taking in a hilly, cheery and nondescript French community (described as ‘rough’ in the court records, of course), the absence of just one more ordinary young man. He set out to investigate something: whether there might be, lurking over a Turkish border crossing, a future for himself.

Will Tizard 

Will Tizard is a Central & Eastern Europe correspondent for Variety. Variety is the premier film industry trade journal, covering the global production, distribution and exhibition sectors, plus TV, the web and the stage, and its reviews are an important source for buyers worldwide. He is a senior journalism professor at Anglo-American University in Prague, he is completing production on Buried, a documentary following the fight for the return of stolen Holocaust-era Judaica in Russia.

more articles from a section:  Review

1+2.19On Sounds by ImageThe film journalist Antonín Tesař writes about the new film The Sound Is Innocent directed by Johana Ožvold.Antonín Tesař
1+2.19 Music as a Lag Between Death and InfinityJanis Prášil ruminates on Solo – this year´s winner of Ji.hlava Czech Joy section – which comes to cinemas. Did the picture succeed in depicting the inner world, so hard to portray, of a mentally ill musician? And what if it is the illness itself which enables people to take a look into the grievous core of being?Janis Prášil
1+2.19A Place to Take a BreathThe film journalist Janis Prášil compares two documentary portraits of this year – Forman vs. Forman and Jiří Suchý: Tackling Life with Ease on his blog.Janis Prášil
F2.18The Silence of Others This film by Almudena Carracedo and Rober Bahar, produced by the Almodóvar brothers, screams out for justice for the unpunished crimes of the Franco régime
F4.17China, 87. The OthersWill Tizard from Variety on the Opus Bonum selection China 87. The Others by Violaine de VillersWill Tizard
F2.17Máme tlakovú níž / Richard Müller: Nepoznaný
F1.17The Lust for PowerWill Tizard from Variety on Opus Bonum selection The Lust for Power by Tereza Nvotová (world premiere).Will Tizard
F1.17On the Edge of Freedom Sydney Levine from SydneysBuzz on First Lights selection On the Edge of Freedom by Jens Lengerke and Anita Mathal Hopland (central European premiere). Sydney Levine
F3.17Acts and IntermissionsColin Beckett on Opus Bonum selection Acts and Intermissions by Child Abigail (internationale premiere).Colin Beckett
F3.17Enticing Sugary Boundless or Songs and Dances about DeathColin Beckett on Between the Seas selection Enticing Sugary Boundless or Songs and Dances about Death by Tetiana Khodakivska and Oleksandr Stekolenko (world premiere). Colin Beckett

starší články

25. 10. 2017

from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoySportPandemic as an opportunityJi.hlava's Emerging Producers discuss the opportunity that can emerge from crisisSteve RickinsonInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková