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FILM OF THE WEEK Playing politics with human lives

MARIA DUARTE recommends a harrowing story of US brutality and lawlessness in Guantanamo

The Mauritanian (15) 
Directed by Kevin MacDonald 

 

DESCRIBED by human rights activists as “a stain on America’s global image,” this powerful and moving drama puts a human face to those on the receiving end of inhumane treatment at Guantanamo detention centre in Cuba.

It is based on the real-life inspiring memoir, Guantanamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was held without charge at the facility by the US government for 14 years and two months, during which he was repeatedly tortured and abused, suspected of being al-Qaida’s chief recruiter for the September 11 terror attacks.

The film opens with Mohamedou being taken for questioning by the Mauritanian police following a wedding in November 2001. His family and his mother never saw him again.

Shot in a documentary style, director Kevin MacDonald delivers an intense and poignant film — a celebration of survival and the human spirit — as it examines what we can endure, but shouldn’t have to, as well as the extraordinary ability to forgive.

It is driven by an astounding, nuanced performance by Tahar Rahim (The Serpent and The Prophet) as the innocent and the ever-optimistic Mohamedou, also a co-producing credit on the film, who, even at this lowest ebb, held on to who he was. 

Jodie Foster, in another powerhouse portrayal as his unrelenting and unsentimental defence lawyer Nancy Hollander, fights for habeas corpus along with the formidable military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), in the process unearthing cover ups and far reaching conspiracies by authorities.

The most striking moments though are the real-life film footage during the end credits of a joyous, upbeat and smiling Mohamedou back in Mauritania with Hollander and her legal associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) singing along to a Bob Dylan song.

It is hard to comprehend how someone who went through Hell could forgive his captors and not hold a grudge against anyone.

Yet Guantanamo is still running with forty inmates, over half of whom have been held without charge for years. Tony Blair once said Guantanamo Bay was an anomaly. It’s not an anomaly — it’s a disgrace.

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