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Bernard-Henri Lévy

Bernard-Henri Lévy, Peshmerga and pathos

By Manon Variol

Bernard-Henri Lévy is like Marmite: he is as fascinating as he is irritating. The French are divided about whether they love or hate the speeches and attitude of this philosopher, writer, director, and intellectual. His latest documentary, Peshmerga, is no different. It gives you the opportunity to discover Iraq from behind Daesh front lines, but its footage is quickly swamped by the director's ever-present commentary.

He arrived at the screening room of the Royal Geographic Society, in London, just as he always does on TV: his shirt half-open, his hair half-brushed, and his ego twice as big as as most. On 11 July, Bernard-Henri Lévy presented his documentary for the first time in the UK, during a special screening organised by The Hexagon Society, of which he is the Honorary President. And when the man entered the room, the audience instantly fell silent. BHL, as he is often referred to, introduced the film explaining that he had made many war reports before, but “none of them was as heartbreaking as this one”.

Peshmerga shows the fight of Kurdish soldiers against Daesh in Iraq. BHL and his team went to the frontline in the Sinjar Mountains. They agreed to record the fight under one condition: they should be allowed to film anywhere they wanted, with no censorship. The documentary offers striking images of the battle between the peshmerga and the extremists, as close to the front line as possible.

Bernard-Henri Lévy said the ISIS soldiers were
Bernard-Henri Lévy said the ISIS soldiers were "cowards"

Bernard-Henri Lévy’s message is quite simple: “We all struggle for the same values. We face a shared defeat. Let’s now fight for a shared victory against extremism!” he said. With the attitude of a Hollywood star, the philosopher lectured the European governments. “If you decide to do something, you can do it” he claimed. The main goal of the film is to pressure heads of state to act against ISIS and support Kurdish soldiers. A message which could be perfectly clear without BHL overdoing the pathos.

Even though you barely see him during the film, Bernard-Henri Lévy is ubiquitous. He clumsily comments on actions which do not need to be explained. He raises existential questions which seem obvious when you watch the images. He tries to play with emotions using music which would not be out of place in the biggest American blockbusters while talking about “innocence killed in Iraq and governments throughout the world which are not reacting. We get it: war is bad.

Fortunately, you can forget about the non-stop commentary when the team uses drones to fly over the enemy’s territories. These offered disturbing images of villages destroyed by bombs and abandoned by their inhabitants. You realise, while watching these never-before seen images, the awful conditions of the thousands of migrants fleeing to save their lives and their family.

It must be aknowledged that Bernard-Henri Lévy has been brave. But you wonder how he managed to get there in a suit among the soldiers in combat gear... Nevertheless, Pershmerga died in front of his team and one of their cameramen was seriously wounded when the truck he was in was blown up by a land mine. And the philosopher brought us an unknown image of ISIS soldiers: invisible. Each time the peshmerga went forward to face them, the extremists went backward. “The media have built the myth of an invulnerable ISIS, Bernard-Henri Lévy said after the screening. What we saw was in fact an army of cowards, of shallow fighters who bravely behead hostages on their knees but run away when they have to fight.

Peshmerga is an amazing historical documentary of the struggle of the Kurds against ISIS. All of them gathered to fight together as if chosen to do so. Men, women, young and old, the Kurds risk their lives to protect the world from extremism. It shows the war between the the peshmerga and extremists in a totally different way that will open your eyes on this “shared fight” of the most powerful countries in the world against ISIS. This film is a must-see to discover a breathtaking and terrifying Iraq. In summary, BHL's film would be perfect... without BHL.


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