(Glasgow Film Festival: Film AT Home; Thu 25 Feb to Sun 28 Feb)
"The Mauritanian" follows the remarkable true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim), who was captured by 'The U.S. Government' and imprisoned for years without trial at 'Guantanamo' Bay (GTMO). It's an inspiring account of survival against all odds as Slahi, in his fight for freedom, finds allies in defence attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley). Through Nancy and Teri’s controversial advocacy and evidence uncovered by formidable military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), a shocking and far-reaching conspiracy is revealed. "The Mauritanian" is a commentary on the importance of 'The Rule Of Law' and extremism of all kinds, but is also a tender, funny, uplifting film about Mohamedou, an extraordinary man whose humanity triumphed, leaving those around him profoundly changed.
Hey this is what it’s like to be ripped apart and ripped from your family and taken to some place you've no idea where you're. The story is driven by Mohamedou who's a transcendent person, a philosopher, he’s so witty and so compassionate. Mohamedou is charming and funny and not what you expect, from an internationally wanted, excused, terrorist, criminal who's accused of recruiting people for '9/11' and financing terror. He’s the opposite of what you imagine, he’s so in love with 'American' culture, he can quote every line of 'The Big Lebowski', he knows it by heart because he watched it 110 times while he's in prison. This guy has been through hell like this and at the end didn’t hold any grudge against anyone. He's a hero, an innocent man imprisoned and tortured. The incredible grace of forgiveness that Mohamedou practices through all of that, everyone can hopefully learn through what's a very difficult time in the world. His forgiveness is what makes him so special and what saves him to not fall into madness. He’s not angry at all, it’s impressive, he has the right to be angry, but he’s not. It takes a soul that’s so strong and whatever his life brings him for the rest of his life, he’s here to move mountains, and he already is. He’s changing the world, and his effect will go on for centuries simply by the energy that he carries into every moment of his life.
Nancy Hollander is an 'International Criminal Defence Attorney', who fights for Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s release. Most of Mohamedou’s contact with Nancy happened in a room identical to the cell that he occupied when he entered the torture program, and after that, when he becomes a ‘cooperating prisoner’ he's interned in the same kind of cell, but with less restrictions. Nancy feels very maternal towards him, and you can just see the twinkle in both of their eyes. It’s so obvious they really care about one another. Nancy is an extraordinarily brilliant woman who's just a ball of contradictions. She's this very structured thinker, very smart, very measured, she’s very careful about everything she says and yet she loves her red lipstick and nail polish. She loves fast cars, she likes sports-cars, she likes digital equipment and yet she's this public defender and she has this long road as an activist. So many parts of her are conflicting, and that’s what’s beautiful about real characters, real people. Real people are not all just one thing. Nancy is really a combination of so many things. She's unrelenting, she's not sentimental, and she's a career fighter. It's a tricky character. It's been very surreal for everybody, for Mohamedou and certainly for Nancy to see the recreation of 'GTMO'; to see the camp set up, to see the barbed wire, and fencing and the concrete walkways, the kind of sad air conditioners; and all of the military men in their various regalia. It’s hard not to feel like you’re back in that environment. All the dark parts of the film are cool grey and concrete, and the film slightly desaturated and darkened a lot of the 'Guantanamo' interior colors just so that photographically, it's a little bit more sombre and a bit more depressing. That part of the film is all a continuous color, whereas Nancy's world in New Mexico has warmer colors, plants, natural fabrics and wood.
Nancy works alongside Teri Duncan, who's an amalgamation of two attorneys, Teri Duncan and Sylvia Royce (Justine Mitchell). Teri shares a lot, she's very open, you know it’s scary to go up against the government; it’s scary to walk into something without knowing all angles and all sides of the equation, but more than anything, Teri’s heart lies in justice and her heart lies in the simple truths of like compassionate, and neighborly humanity. That overrode any fear that maybe she had. There's that warm.energy we need from that character. Neil Buckland (Zachary Levi), a 'Federal' agent is and old friend of Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch. Neil is an old school buddy of Stuart’s who happens to also be very entrenched in this specific case and these things that went down at 'Guantanamo'. He works for one of the intelligence agencies or branches within 'The U.S. Government' and so therefore is a bit of a gatekeeper when it comes to certain information that Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch needs in order to run a fair trial in prosecuting Mohamedou. Neil proves to be a little less than helpful in that regard because of his own traumas he felt through '9/11'. It's causing him a lot of fear and unfortunate anger and hate that a lot of people are possessed with in that time. When something as tragic as that happens, trauma can really screw people up. So, that’s where Neil’s at and then ultimately also has this redemptive moment towards the end of the film which shows you that people are more than what meets the eye, we're all 360 degree of people. He's not the most savoury character in the story.
Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch's buddy from flight training school was one of the co-pilots on one of the planes that flew into 'The South Tower', so he starts from there, as well as being a military lawyer. He’s also a 'Christian' man that wants to do justice and wants to bring people to justice. It’s an extraordinary position to be in at the beginning of this film because you go ‘well, okay I can understand why he just wants to see this guy punished’. So what happens to him in the journey of this film is he discovers through pushing and pushing and knocking on closed doors that eventually these confessions have been extracted and they include accounts of torture, of waterboarding and various other contraventions of 'The Geneva Human Rights Accord', so he then takes a stand against his superiors and says; ' I refuse to prosecute this case', this is wrong, it's unlawful, it's undemocratic, un-'American' and un-'Christian'. And we guess it’s kind of where our sympathies lie most in the film, with someone who has every reason to want to find and persecute the perpetrator of that kind of an atrocity, that unforgivable act of terrorism, but in the process of looking at the supposed rock-solid confessions realises they're all extracted under torture; that’s not the way to get evidence. That’s not the way to behave in the rule of law. He's a man who a lot of the audience will think is deeply unsympathetic to begin with but right from the beginning you feel like ‘ok this guy, is part of the group, part of the military machine' but there's something about him which is more thoughtful, more humorous. Every character in the film is not all that they’re cracked up to be, and there’s depth and complexity in all of us.
The film is based on the book ‘Guantánamo Diary’, published in 'The U.K.' in 2015 by Jamie Byng from 'Canongate'. The movie isn’t a direct adaptation of the book, the book is Mohamedou’s autobiography so he can’t tell the story from the other perspectives. The film covers the first two thirds of the story, until his appeal. 'GTMO' (Guantanamo Bay), one of the world’s most notorious detention camps, is still officially a secret and the plans of the environment aren’t available anywhere a lot of imagery has got out, but it’s not very well labelled. We were all so shaken up by the events of '9/11' that there was such fear in America, but we didn’t think very much about who was being interned. We've to be fair to all of the parties because we really believe that the truest stories are the ones where there just aren’t any bad guys. Where it’s just human beings that come together, trying to do the best that they can, but they’re guided by fear and there's a lesson in this story; is that impulse, that fear impulse is so strong and unfortunately it was in the era of 'Guantanamo', and in the era of '9/11', which took over 'The American' psyche. We're making decisions, we're making international foreign policy decisions by fear instead of using the laws and the rules that we knew. It’s a movie, it’s not just a series of events that happened you know?
What we all have in common is greater than what divides us. It's something about the indefatigable joy of the human spirit. It's this combination of politics and an outrageous crime against humanity. The law is something really interesting, how it works and the intricacies of it, and you know, how our country is shaped by that. How the world is shaped by that. Any type of injustice, any type of tragedy when it comes to our failure as human beings to fully see another human being and put them through fair trial and properly practiced democracy, really gets our blood boiling. It’s a wisdom that says everything that every single ancient religious, biblical or institutional text has ever said, which is ‘just be kind to one another’, ‘love your neighbour’, ‘take care of one another’, ‘forgive’, ‘show up’. It strips back all the distraction and chaos of consumerism and materialism and plants you right back down into the true seat of your soul.