Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Movie of
the Month:
Part 22

I recently
the follow-
ing film for
Video Lib-
, and
thought the results were worth sharing.

THE OATH [***1/2]
(Laura Poitras, US, 2010, 90 mins.)

I read a lot of DeLillo while I was in Yemen. The anti-hero and ter-
rorism themes in his work were appropriate company. During ed-
iting, I saw a retrospective of the Dardenne brothers at the FSLC,
which reminded me to trust the intelligence of the audience.

-- Laura Poitras to indieWIRE

In 2006's Oscar-nominated documentary My Country, My Count-
, director Laura Poitras spent time with a Sunni physician in
Baghdad. In The Oath, she focuses on a taxi driver in Yemen.

An affable, open-faced family man, Abu Jandal (née Nasser
al-Bahri) served as Osama bin Laden's bodyguard from 19-
97-2000, during which time he recruited his brother-in-
law, Salim Hamdan, who became bin Laden's driver.

The title comes from the fact that Jandal pledged a loyalty oath
to the al-Qaeda leader. As it transpires, he later pledged a contra-
dictory oath to the government of Yemen. In conversation with a
young acolyte, he describes bin Laden as a "father figure" while
drinking a Coca Cola (he admits he can't resist Western goods).

From 2001-2009, Hamdan was based at Guantánamo Bay;
in 2006, he became plaintiff in a Supreme Court case which
led to the first trial under the Military Commissions Act.
"Thinking about him," Sandal says, "wrenches my heart."

While Poitras films Jandal, she represents Hamdan's thoughts
through the letters he sends to relatives and the statements of
Lt. Commander Brian Mizer, his military lawyer, who denies that
his client engaged in terrorist activities, describing his case as one
of "guilt by association." He fears the tribunal won't be fair. The
courtroom prohibits cameras, but Poitras covers the aftermath.

Considering that the filmmaker hails from the States, it seems
surprising that Jandal would speak with her so openly, but he's
also shared his thoughts with The New York Times and appear-
ed on 60 Minutes. Whatever his reasons, he's a fascinating sub-
ject. Hamdan, who never appears on screen, remains an intri-
guing enigma. The special feature offers additional footage
and extended interviews. Highly recommended.

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part 21: The Way We Get By

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original text. Click
here for my review of My Country, My Country. Image
from indieWIRE (link leads to an interview with Poitras).

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