Theatre of War

 

star

 

 

Innovations ensure that this documentary will arouse divergent reactions.

 

Theatre of War 

Lou Armour, Marcelo Vallejo and Lou Armour

 

The standard set by the documentaries released here by DocHouse during 2018 has been a high one so it is both surprising and disappointing to find that their final offering this year is a dud. Mind you, I can’t deny that Lola Arias’s Theatre of War is other than innovative, so it could be felt that my responses are a matter of taste. On paper it all sounds promising since the core idea behind this film stems from the fact that thirty years have now passed since the Falklands War: the concept is to bring together three Englishmen who were among our forces there and three Argentinians who as young men were required to take part in the resistance.

 

The extent to which these former enemies can now bond (or not) together with a look at the effect that the experience of the war has had on them in their subsequent lives could have yielded an absorbing film. A simple approach putting the focus directly on the six individuals would have been appropriate, but it doesn’t suit Arias with her background in theatre, visuals arts projects and the like. The opening segment at once makes it obvious that the title is even more meaningful that one might suppose: we see the six men posed on what looks like a stage set and their subsequent movements appear to be fully choreographed. Later, some of them are seen individually on a film set complete with microphones and, later still, five men become a band to offer a specially composed song that asks, “Have you ever killed anybody?”

 

Add abstract backgrounds in certain scenes and this artificiality encourages uncertainty as to how much of what we see is directly authentic and how much is scripted. The men are encouraged not just to reminisce but to appear in reenactments of incidents recalled. The idea may have been encouraged by the differently motivated acting out of past actions that featured in Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2012 documentary The Act of Killing, but here it is built up to provide a climax in which young men replace the six during one such reenactment leaving the older men to become onlookers. Just what conclusion we are meant to draw from this seems unclear.

 

Indeed, the whole film feels arbitrary as it jumps from person to person and ranges from a single exterior battlefield shot to points being made using model soldiers. The bond that develops between Lou Armour and Marcelo Vallejo is worth observing but, as with a story about a dying Argentinian prisoner that comes up no less than three times, the novel treatment detracts instead of enriching. When the Englishmen visit a local school, a poster seen there suggests an absence of reconciliation but this segment just fades out inconclusively. Seemingly, Theatre of War is part of a larger video installation and is also linked to a theatre play and to a book of the play’s text, but we can only assess it as a film in its own right. I have rarely felt so exasperated by a potentially interesting film, one that sacrifices that promise in favour of arty experimentation and novelty. Some people may even see this approach as a reason to call it a masterpiece, but for me it was a disaster.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Lou Armour, Marcelo Vallejo, David Jackson, Rubén Otero, Sukrim Rai, Gabriel Sagastume.

 

Dir Lola Arias, Pro Alejandra Grinschpun and Gema Juarez Allen, Screenplay Lola Arias, Ph Manuel Abramovich, Ed Alejo Hoijman and Anita Remon, Music Ulises Conti.

 

Gema Films/BWP/Sutor Kolonko/SWR/Arte-DocHouse.
83 mins. Argentina/Spain/Germany. 2018. Rel: 7 December 2018. No Cert.