JIHADISTS – movie review

JIHADISTS (Salafistes)

Cinema Libre
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lemine Ould M. Salem, François Margolin
Screenwriter: Lemine Ould M. Salem, François Margolin
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/6/19
Opens: January 25, 2019 in New York’s Cinema Village



“Jihadists” aka the French title “Salafistes,” contains words perhaps more alarming than anything our President has said, even more controversial than Rashida Tlaib’s locker room word describing her plans for taking on the POTUS. In fact the movie was temporarily banned…not in Boston, not in Saudi Arabia, not in North Korea or Iran, but in…France. During its brief 75 minutes’ running time, you will be accosted by words that will make you shudder, encourage you to shelter your small children, and, if you live in New York to dig yourself a bomb shelter, or else using the Number 1 line at 191st Street as though 180 feet of earth can protect you. Sad to say, not even that station will shield you from the ire of people who want nothing more than to kill you merely because you don’t think like them. These terrible folks called by the French Salafistes will frighten you more than Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees ever did, because people like them could be a real problem for you, unlike the creeps that any Stephen King novel could imagine.

After agreeing to cut some of the scenes that went too far over the top—such as images of a police officer killed in France—the French Ministry of Culture lifted the ban giving it a rating of Interdit au moins de 18 ans. Still, the film opened in only two Paris theaters.

In answer to those of the French Culture Ministry who wonder whether this film is an apologia, or defense, of ISIS ideology, truth to tell, many people watching might be swayed to the cause because the people who are interviewed, courtesy of their bedfellows with expensive cameras, appear normal. They don’t have horns coming out of their head and if they have tails, they keep them well hidden. They do not sound like firebrands, nothing like the Hitler who depended on ranting and raving, but instead they explain their positions calmly, as though implying that they would be perfectly willing to debate the opposite side—but as equals. This would be like allowing a debate between those who believe the world is flat and those think otherwise, putting both on the same pedestal.

The assemblage of films has been edited by François Margolin, obviously French, and Lemine Ould M. Salem who is from Mauritania. Margolin is the only talking head that takes us outside of the milieu, sitting calmly with a jacket overlaying an unbuttoned shirt, describing why he chose to do this project, which is to educate the rest of us to what may be ahead especially here in the West. Subject wise, the material has been covered before and may be available on the Internet, courtesy of Isis members who have knocked out professional, Hollywood-style propaganda not unlike what Leni Reifenstahl did with financing from the Nazi Party. Her “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia,” are considering two of the most effective films of their kind.

Specifically “Jihadists” deals with the Sunni Islam extreme sect of Salafis, the spokesmen—all men by the way—lecturing us heathens and infidels without a smile or laugh on their faces. And that’s a good thing because if they came across as entertainers they could influence far more people than they have done to date. We see one guy whose hand is amputated for stealing, and it’s the right hand at that. Presumably only lefties could snatch wallets after that. Two homosexuals are tossed from the roof, the first one seen in slow motion, because their “crime offends God” and makes them “no better than animals.” In one unexplained strip of film, a couple of jihadists drive by in their car gunning down people with automatic weapons, which takes road rage to a somewhat higher peak. (Why they did this is not explained, so we may assume they were having sport as they had with the animals they machine-gunned from an aircraft in the opening scene.)

The countries exhibited include Afghanistan, Syria, Tunisia and Mali, in that last case focusing on sharia law in fabled city of Timbuktu, liberated by the French in 2013. During the rule of jihadists—who want their own state carved largely out of Syria and Iraq—two morals police warn women trying to sell their trinkets and foods to cover their faces completely.

H.G. Wells said that the human condition is a race between education and catastrophe. Without sufficient learning, not so much of facts but the ability to reason, even we in the United States could be electing politicians whose actions could be disastrous. Perhaps even highly educated people watch “Jihadists” and are tempted to say, “Hmmm, these fellas make some good points” but soon enough wake up from the nightmare to realize “How could we have ever thought that?” Imagine what men and women without sufficient reasoning power would think when they hear the arguments spouted by these clownish but highly toxic people! Happily, this fear-inducing picture ends with a final scene of an elderly gentleman smoking his pipe despite criticism from a passing ideologue. He demanded and received the return of what gives him pleasure saying that his health is not anybody else’s business. He got it back and defiantly exhales a huge puff for the camera.

The film is in French, English, Arabic and Bambara with the subtitles in white—those subtitles clashing with scenes involving people with white shirts. A large part of the cinema world still doesn’t get it: foreign language movies need bold print preferably in a strong color like yellow.

75 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+

ON HER SHOULDERS – movie review


Oscilloscope Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Alexandria Bombach
Screenwriter:  Alexandria Bombach
Cast:  Nadia Murad, Murad Ismael
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/9/18
Opens: October 19, 2018

When President Trump viewed pictures on TV of the children killed by Bashar al-Assad’s chemical or biological weapons, he exclaimed “Let’s kill that f—er.”  Earlier than that, during the campaign, he assured the American people that he would wipe ISIS off the map.”  Admittedly the terrorist group has suffered losses, having to move out almost completely from its bunker in Syria, but that has not stopped the group from killing, maiming, enslaving and raping the Yazidi minority in Northern Iraq.  As Nadia Murad, the focus of Alexandria Bombach’s doc “On Her Shoulders,” points out, in her village of Sinjar, the older men and children were destroyed, the women held captives as sex slaves.  One of these women, Ms. Murad, escaped from her captors through a door accidentally left open, was taken in by some of her countrymen, and eventually became the principal spokesperson for the crimes committed by ISIS; a genocide, in effect.  Missing in “On Her Shoulders” is the way its principal subject managed to be swept away from her country to become the leading advocate for information on the genocide committed by ISIS.

For Alexandria Bombach, directing, manipulating the lenses and editing  “On Her Shoulders,” this is her sophomore full-length feature after her 2015 picture “Frame by Frame,” a personal look at four photographers in Afghanistan.  Her present subject, Nadia Murad, received the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize and wrote a book about her dreadful experiences, “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight against the Islamic State.”  Since embarking on a whirlwind tour of seventeen countries, lobbying for funding to help the people left behind and petitioning the U.N. General Assembly to conduct a full investigation of the war crimes, this woman has given up the chance to live the life of a normal, pretty woman in her early twenties but relishes her role in the public eye.  This is not to say that despite her generally stoic composure she never lets loose with tears whenever describing her own rape and her witnessing of the mass murder and enslavement of her people.  Bombach captures the subject’s emotions in close-up and in shots that find Nadia addressing a full session of the General Assembly, wearing a headphone to receive translations into Kurdish and Arabic wherever necessary.

She teamed up with Murad Ismael, a founder of Yazda, which is a group advocating for the Yazidis.  The two cry out for no more talk and a lot more action, and perhaps their championing of the fight to destroy ISIS has met with some success, given the aforementioned displacement of ISIS from most of Syria.

Bombach’s broad sweep takes us to refugee camps in Athens and Thessaloniki where Murad chats with Luis Moreno Campo, first prosecutor for the International Criminal Court.  We find that the refugees will likely be split up among countries willing to accept them just as some of the Lost Boys of Sudan were relocated to the U.S. The bad news is that the spreading out of the Yazidis among several countries could spell the end of the community whose half million followers will no longer be able continue the cultural traditions allowed in a single state.

Bombach edits carefully, merging several meetings and speeches of her brave and dignified subject, asking us in the movie audience to hear the same morbid story over and over—undoubtedly more wearying for Ms. Murad than for the target audience of progressives who will catch the documentary when it opens Oct. 19.  Traditional entertainment value embodying animation and special effects are absent, likely affecting word-of-mouth of the initial film audiences and discouraging those whose political literacy nonetheless requires flashes of melodrama.  We hope that more docs of this nature are in the works, particularly now when the Rohingya people are regularly persecuted by Myanmar’s military.

It’s the old story: during times of extreme nationalism, majorities in countries often consider smaller groups to be “the other.”  Yazidis in Iraq; Jews, Romani and Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany, Armenians in Turkey in 1915, Muslims in 15th Century Spain.

94 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B+