movie review: Peshmerga

(This review is part of a series related to my professional development project of attending the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.)


Peshmerga movie poster

Peshmerga
(France, 2016)
Dir. Bernard-Henri Lévy


Peshmerga’s documentary team, led by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, follows a group of Kurdish military as they battle Daesh (aka ISIS) in Iraq. It’s probably safe to say most Westerners don’t know much about these smart, tough men and women, and that’s a shame, because they are fascinating and admirable.

The film is tense, as you’d expect from a war documentary. It’s clear the film crew doesn’t know what will happen next as they travel with the soldiers from one beleaguered village to the next, and this uncertainty adds sometimes unbearable tension to the scenes. At certain points, Lévy’s voiceover tells us exactly what happens after the scene ends, and although we are spared seeing the carnage, it packs an emotional wallop because we have just spent a considerable amount of time getting to know the newly deceased or injured.

Some of the most interesting scenes centre around women: we meet Helly Luv, who was among those present at the premiere I attended and was introduced to the audience as “the Kurdish [pop star] Madonna.” Luv is an outspoken advocate for her people, not afraid to show up and raise morale in the war zone. We also meet a group of female soldiers who are treated as equals to their male counterparts. According to Lévy, these women strike terror in the hearts of the Islamic militants they are fighting, because to be killed by a woman means the ultimate shame and no glory in the afterlife.

Peshmerga is an excellent glimpse into this little known world. Highly recommended.

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