The Road to Guantanamo

This is my movie week. I can watch the movies I want after having consented to see Casino Royale twice, the first time with my son who couldn't wait when the movie premiered this week (actually we watch it last Saturday), and the second time will be with my husband who wasn't able to join the first time because he is on call 24 hrs for a week until next Friday.

Having made this sacrifice, I asked the men in the house, who always conspire against me to rent action movies or comedies, to let me rent two videos, that they were reluctant to watch, only for myself.

Yesterday, I watched 'The Road to Guantanamo'. I knew that the movie was about the three Muslim Britons who were released from Guantanamo, the Tipton three, as they are called. Being familiar with the director's filmography, I knew that I was probably going to be subjected to some harsh scenes. Winterbottom is the director of an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure where you can see Kate Winslet giving birth as if you were the midwife. He also directed the 'Butterfly Kiss', the story of a psychotic woman serial killer, as well as the controversial movie, 'Nine Songs', a love story where actors perform actually real sex scenes for the camera, and the well known 'Welcome to Sarajevo'. From Winterbottom comes also the smart 'Tristram Shandy', a real cinematographic tour de force, and 'In this world', the story of the journey of two men from Afghanistan to London as clandestine.

Winterbottom's movies have a great effect on me, they never leave me indifferent. Actually, at the end of 'In this world' I bursted into tears and I still feel a sting of sadness inside even now, two years later, when I think about the movie. I was prepared to all this when I turned the CD player on to watch 'The Road to Guantanamo'. My son joined and we had a little discussion before and I told him that it is O.K. to close his eyes if some scenes may be unbearable to watch.

The movie follows the Tipton three as they - initially they were four, one of them, Amir, will disappear- set to travel to Pakistan to assist their friend's marriage, from the moment they leave England to the moment of their return, describing their capture, the three prisons in which they transit before landing at Guantanamo, their interrogations and their release two years later. The story, played by actors, is interrupted by narrations from the real persons themselves. The movie is well constructed. And because it is a documentary style, even if it is acted, it is colder and less emotionally charged than other Winterbottom's movies. But the subject, being what it is, makes you tense as the story evolves and unfurls. At some point, my son bursted into a hsyterical laughter and I suspect this was to relieve some of the tension he flet inside. It was during interrogations. We knew that the most savage forms of physical and moral torture were to come during interrogations. However, the feigned or intended stupidity of the interrogators, unprepared as they are with false informations and assumptions about the 'Muslim and Arab mind', their stubborness, close to a certain from of despair, to extract something from the detainees, make a good basis for a comedy, if it weren't a tragedy that was the ordeal of these men. The interrogators looked out of touch with reality, lost, or worse, plain stupid. I remember that my husband's grand'mother who was in Ravensbruck during WWII for four years before being released, in a prisoner exchange process, used to tell us that laughter was helpful in the camps and that if you were capable of laughter at the absurdity of human cruelty you had more chance than others to live and even to overcome the trauma. At some point, a female interrogator asks the detainee if he is a member of Al-Qaida and he answers no and she repeats the question, all interrogators repeat over and over the same question as if they were trying by a magical formula or incantation to get what they want from the prisoner. And when faced with a definitve NO the interrogator, at some point, shows the prisoner a video of a meeting in Afghanistan featuring Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri and she tells him 'Look at the image on this video, it is you there'. The prisoner looks at the video and says 'No way, the date is 2000 and in 2000 I was doing community work in the UK, being on probation'.

I got the impression that what helped the Tipton three is their youthfulness and a history of youth conduct disorders, at least for two of them, that had them on a police file for minor offenses but which acted both psychologically, as an inside rebellion that helped them sustain the pressure, and operationally as a proof of the fabrication and lies the interrogators had made up in the case the US had to bring against most of the detainees of Guantanamo. But not all people will have this chance. I cannot help but think about the remaining detainees in Guantanamo who, under the new law for military tribunals, will have no access to a lawyer to challenge their detention and their treatement, no access to the charges brought upon them, sealed forever away from the rest of the world, and from Humanity, and at the mercy of their torturers.

Winterbottom had admirably succeeded in intertwining both the drama and the absurd bringing us a good documentary film about the number one shame of our modern time: Guantanamo.


Behemoth101 said...

The real question for les amerloques is: should you eat before or after seeing the movie?

Elizabeth said...

so what did you think of "Casino Royale"? I think Daniel Craig has a nice body, and he's a better actor than some of the previous ones, but I also think he has a kind of innocence about him that is somewhat incongruous with the character.

Sophia said...


I thought the movie was good, the cast is excellent and Craig has his charm in a certain candour and fragility in his look. He is the contrary of the cynical Bond character we used to watch. Now this is the first story in the serie and craig has actually benefited from this fact but he is a highly charismatic actor.

Since March 29th 2006