Berlin: War Projects Offer Alternative to 'American Sniper'

Courtesy of Ustura Films

Three dramas about the conflict in the Middle East present decidedly different approaches to conflict from Clint Eastwood’s controversial blockbuster.

As Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper continues to divide audiences and critics in the United States, a trio of films screening in Berlin give very different views on the conflict in the Middle East.

British film Kajaki: The True Story from director Paul Katis dramatizes real events that left one British soldier dead and six seriously wounded in Afghanistan in 2006. Tobias Lindholm’s A War, a market title that StudioCanal is selling at Berlin’s European Film Market, follows a Danish soldier who, after helping his troop survive a firefight with the Taliban, returns home to find himself on trial for war crimes.

And Eyes of a Thief, from Palestinian director Najwa Najjar, is, like Eastwood’s film, the story of a real-life sniper: 22-year-old bricklayer Thaer Hamad, who, during the Second Intifada, used his father’s World War II rifle to shoot and kill a reported seven Israeli soldiers and three Israeli settlers at an army checkpoint in the West Bank.

None of these films are in Berlin’s official selection, but all are getting attention, with Kajaki and Eyes of a Thief holding special screenings in Berlin, and StudioCanal generating heat with its early footage of the still-unfinished A War.

All three also provide radically different angles from which to view the theater of war. The bird’s-eye view of American Sniper shooter Chris Kyle is taken down to grunt level with Kajaki. The danger facing the squad of soldiers in Katis’ film comes not from a menacing Taliban enemy but from a field of Soviet-era mines. It avoids taking an ethical stance on the conflict, instead focusing on the soldiers’ ground-level experience of war.

“There’s no bad guys in my film. There is not a single shot fired,” says Katis. “That’s what appealed to me about this story. Unlike American Sniper, my film isn’t about heroic archetypes. These men aren’t heroes. They are ordinary Joes who have been put in the shit of war. Then, through their actions, they are forced to become heroic.”

A War examines another angle: the morality of war. In particular how the West reconciles its laws against murder with sending soldiers into battle to kill. 

In Eyes of a Thief, Najjar presents the Mideast conflict from the point of view of a Palestinian fighting against what he sees as an occupying force. “It’s so different,” Najjar says of her film. “[American Sniper] was the view of an occupier demonizing the people that they occupied in order to allow for the killing, and allow for it to be acceptable. … It’s important to show different narratives.”

“All the films we’ve had till now have been from the American perspective,” adds Katis. “But they aren’t the only ones involved in this conflict. We Brits have been in the war from the start. I thought it was about time we had our own movie giving our take on  things.”

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