i.e the French fraud. I was hoping never to have to write about him again—I thought I had definitively dispatched him last year (here, here, and here)—but have no choice, as France’s best known “philosopher” has a new film out, a documentary on the centrality of his persona in the Libya intervention and end of the Qadhafi regime. The “making-of d’une guerre” (the film’s tagline; the French come up with original ways to use English expressions but this is the first time I’ve seen this one). This is BHL’s first directorial effort since his calamitous 1997 ‘Le Jour et la nuit‘, a box office failure of the first order, that was greeted with loud boos at its premiere at the Berlinale, labeled “the worst French film since 1945” by Les Cahiers du Cinéma, and which Libération banner-headlined was a “certifiable turkey” (navet certifié) (since BHL became an important shareholder in Libé, its reliably negative treatment of his œuvre is a thing of the past). Those who have seen “the turkey” in recent years have not been kinder than the few who did when it opened. The reviews of this one have been mixed: positive to politely critical in press organs where BHL has friends or a financial interest—and these are numerous—, rather less positive or polite in organs in which he has not (yet) invested capital and apparently does not have friends in the rédaction (e.g. Le Croix or Ecran Large; the latter review is particularly scathing). Leela Jacinto, a reporter at France 24 (and personal friend; of mine, not BHL), gave the film a gently critical but respectful review (in English). Leela is way too nice (which is normal, as she’s a nice person). Not that I’ve seen the film myself. I won’t see it. I refuse. I will have to be paid to see it.
One person who was paid to see it was Variety’s critic Jay Weissberg, who covered the film’s debut at Cannes. His review thus begins
Followers of global politics will be surprised to learn that Bernard-Henri Levy is responsible for the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi, but that’s the story Levy tells in “The Oath of Tobruk,” co-helmed with Marc Roussel. Levy is France’s media star philosopher, a peculiarly Gallic creation whose immaculate tailoring and savvy self-promotion make him the darling of celeb rags and higher institutions. With “Tobruk,” he’s finally been subsumed by his own ego, placing himself front and center of Libya’s revolution and barely acknowledging other forces. Such self-aggrandizement will play to only acolytes at home.
Though the Weinsteins picked up the docu pre-Cannes, it’s unlikely even PBS will run such a baldly skewed piece of reportage; perhaps Levy has other projects whose potential makes “Tobruk” seem like a prudent acquisition. It’s certainly not the best vehicle to introduce BHL (as he’s known at home) to Stateside auds, since his nonstop theatricalized narration, interminable use of the first person, and treatment of the Libyan desert as little more than a GQ fashion shoot with himself as model don’t make for a sympathetic portrait. Nor together do they say much about the real nature of Gaddafi’s defeat.
And Weissberg concludes
Through it all, whether in a private jet or the bombed-out streets of Misrata, Levy sports his signature black suit and perfectly pressed white shirts (on especially hot days he compromises with a long-sleeved white t-shirt under the jacket; the bulge of a bullet-proof vest is occasionally visible). The incongruity of his clothing makes him appear a clueless monarch among his unfortunate subjects, and “Tobruk” plays like an illustration of the old joke, “Enough about me. What do you think of my hair?”
Disturbing amateur footage, including shots of Gaddafi’s battered corpse, provide the only sources of genuine potency. Music, taken from the most dramatic portions of Bruckner, Mahler and others, fits with Levy’s amour-propre.
My kinda review. Touché! is all I can say.
On the subject of films that look like certifiable turkeys and that I will refuse to see unless paid, there is one that has not yet opened in France but is on its way, Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘The Dictator’ (SBC may not be the director of the film but it’s his all the way). Two things about Sacha Baron Cohen. First, he is not funny. I repeat: NOT FUNNY. The first time I saw him was in ‘Borat’. I know that lots of people with higher academic degrees thought this film was hilarious (including the cosmopolitan, normally highbrow cinephile friend with whom I saw it—and who is normally not a belly-laugher—, who thought it a riotous cut up; he was doubled over from almost beginning to end). I thought it had a few humorous moments and chuckled here and there, but winced a lot more. I’m sorry but I just don’t find scatological humor, jokes about masturbation, or slapstick scenes of naked middle-aged men chasing each other around very funny. And in films aimed at an adult audience no less. Secondly, SBC is offensive and mean-spirited. E.g. the candid camera scenes making unsuspecting, well-meaning people look ridiculous, betraying the trust of the villagers in Romania, and holding up to ridicule a real country, Kazakhstan, and its people (which was oh so courageous of SBC, as hardly anyone has ever seen a Kazakh, let alone met one, and there is no Kazakh-American community to protest the gratuitous insults). I left the theater saying that I didn’t care for the film but in thinking about it afterward, I decided that I downright hated it. Not long after, I saw SBC in ‘Talladega Nights‘. Now that was a funny movie. But Will Ferrell had the lead there, and while SBC’s character—a gay French stock car driver who goes to Alabama—was amusing enough, he couldn’t get the French accent right. He just isn’t that talented.
So there is not a chance that I will go to see ‘The Dictator’, which looks positively idiotic and cretinous in any case. And I’m not interested in the reviews (which were tops for ‘Borat’, BTW). This one by Joshua Keating—a geopolitical analyst, not a film critic—is all I need. He asks “Is The Dictator racist?” Answer: “Yes. And it’s not that funny either.”