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

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
F5.17The WallNick Holdsworth on Opus Bonum selecetion The Wall by Dmitry Bogolubov (world premiere).Nick Holdsworth
F4.17MissingDominik Kamalzadeh from Der Standard on Opus Bonum selection Missing by Sharifi Farahnaz (world premiere).Dominik Kamalzadeh
F1.17Day 32Colin Beckett on Opus Bonum selection Day 32 by Almeida Andre Valentim (international premiere). Colin Beckett

starší články

F1.17DOK.REVUE
October 25, 2017


from current issue:

New releaseOn Adultery as Mirror of Our Own SelvesBarbora Jíchová Tyson, a visual artist, who has been living in America for seventeen years, has finished her first feature film Talking About Adultery this year. According to the author, the film is an essayistic collage and represents a perspective on humanity, which holds the mirror up to us all.Barbora Jíchová TysonNew releaseFREMWhat is it like to shoot a film in Antarctica? Is it possible to get into the head of artificial intelligence? And what is GAI? All this is described by the documentarist Viera Čákanyová in the text she wrote about her new film FREM in dok.revue.Viera ČákanyováNew releaseHavel Speaking, Can You Hear Me?What were the two last years in the life of former dissident, ex-president Václav Havel like? How did he reflect on the fact that he was gradually leaving this world? Documentarian Petr Jančárek talks about his upcoming documentary film capturing the final stretch of Havel’s, life, the rough cut of which was shown at the Ji.hlava IDFF in the Studio 89 section marking this year’s anniversary of the so-called Velvet Revolution.Petr JančárekThemeEmerging Czech female documentariansIs there a new tide of emerging female documentarians in Czech cinema? What’s fascinating about the work of Czech female filmmakers like Johana Ožvold, Greta Stocklassa or Viera Čákany?Will TizardSportHow to Teach Documentary FilmmakingThis year’s Ji.hlava IDFF offered a panel discussion on how documentary filmmaking is taught in Visegrad countries. Methods used to teach documentary filmmaking in different V4 countries were discussed by lecturers from selected schools. Vít Janeček introduced documentary courses at Prague’s FAMU, Attila Kékesi represented Hungarian University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest, Viera Čákanyová talked about study programmes at Slovak Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava – VSMU, and Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz discussed documentary education at National Film School in Lodz. What emerged from their fruitful discussion? Vít Janeček, Kamila Boháčková, Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, Attila Kékesi, Peter KerekesPoemThe reanimation of Mr. PuiuKhavn De La CruzReviewA 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 PrášilReview 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 PrášilReviewOn Sounds by ImageThe film journalist Antonín Tesař writes about the new film The Sound Is Innocent directed by Johana Ožvold.Antonín TesařInterviewGreta Stoklassa: I Read Rather than Preach the RealityAn interview with the director Greta StoklassaKamila BoháčkováInterviewTo Surprise MyselfWhile the main competition at the International Karlovy Vary Film Festival does not feature any Czech title, the festival’s documentary section has one Czech film to offer: A documentary road movie by Martin Mareček entitled Over the Hills exploring the relationship between a father and a son, as well as the distance that separates us from others. Unlike his previous socially engaged films, the latest title provides a personal and intimate insight. But as Martin Mareček put it in his interview for dok.revue – what is intimate is universal. Marek Hovorka, Petr Kubica, Kamila BoháčkováInterviewKarel Vachek: Films Just Have to Make You Laugh!One of the most original Czech filmmakers Karel Vachek made his ninth film novel called Communism and the Net or the End of Representative Democracy. Fifty years after Prague Spring and thirty years after the Velvet Revolution, Karel Vachek “with his inner laughter” looks back on the evolution of our society and predicts a transformation to direct democracy based on the possibilities of the internet that will allow for the engagement of the whole mankind without the need of representatives. His film Communism will be screened at the beginning of next year at the International Film festival Rotterdam.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionCzech docs of the year 2019Welcome at the English double issue of dok.revue 2019. This winter issue looks back upon the Czech documentary scene in the year 2019 and serves as an annual book of the most (internationally) interesting Czech documentaries and articles about them at dok.revue.Kamila Boháčkovávideo dok.revueMasterclass: Sergej Dvorcevoj23rd Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival