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Saturday, 9 June 2018

Sydney Film Festival (9) - Barrie Pattison reviews THE DEMINER (Hogir Hirori, Sweden, 2017)

We now have a documentary to add to the roll call of fiction mine disposal movies. Think Small Back Room, Ten Seconds to Hell, No Man’s Land, The Hurt Locker orLand of Mine/Under sandet,becoming notably more frequent as we get closer to the present.  

Hogir Hirori
Sweden’s Hogir Hirori with Shinwar Kamal has assembled material on “Crazy” Fakhir the Kurdish deminer Colonel who became obsessed with the Afghan campaign to the point where he continued his work after one device had taken off his leg below the knee.  

We are told more about the man and his work after an opening that sees him stiffly dumping dug up pot bombs by the road side after he has cut the wires off with a small pair of pliers.  He seems alarmingly indifferent to the hazard they represent. 

The Deminer
Using videos made of him at work, watched and commented by his family, we trace his career and see what looks, plausibly enough, a blast represented as the one which injured him. This is followed by coverage of his hospitalisation and fitting with a prosthetic which is so uncomfortable that he has to take it off in the field. He tries on the protective suit that we have seen used in The Hurt Locker and Soy Nerobut continues only wearing his combat fatigues. His fame makes him a marked man for al-Qaeda. 

Obama’s troop withdrawal led to the occupation of Mosul. Three years after its recapture, the area is still full of hidden explosive devices. Against his urgings, a crowd follows now Major Fakhir at work and people beg the exhausted officer to check out the homes they are afraid to re-occupy. The camera crew sharing his risk has to be continually warned “Don’t come any closer. Don’t make us all die.” They have now come to recognise the wires and triggers the enemy use and assure Fakhir that they are one top of the job. The film does not tell us if any of the photographers getting those close-up blasts were injured.

Along with devices concealed on the roads, we register Fakhir’s observation that mines have been dug into a back yard where children would play. Mobile phones are used as triggers and one deminer comments that if one they find rings as they work that will be the end. The sound of a call makes the audience jump.  

The earlier material is murky and it is only the latter, more technically-sophisticated, footage that gives a clear view of what is happening. The film-makers of The Deminer  appear reluctant to impose themselves. They use only the comments of the Fakhir’s family as voice over, though we have no way of telling how much they have manipulated the coverage. 

That leaves us with the subject matter to hold our attention, which it frequently does. We have Fakhir saying that the children dying from concealed explosives could be his children but we never know whether he is a war junky or a humanitarian taking a calculated risk. The compelling study of an individual under pressures that most people can’t imagine is missing. It’s a great pity that this production gets only half way to being the great movie it might have been but it does communicate a distaste for combat that destroys bodies and homes for doubtful gains. That is no small merit.

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