review from the BUCHAREST FILM AWARDS festival
As the images of war and devastation roll out of the printer we know exactly the tone this film will take. We cut to a small boy running through rubble covered Iraqi streets, alone, with a small sack containing what we can only assume are his few worldly possessions. The emotive score swells. Cut to our protagonist, a war photographer, ruminating on a plane coming into land. She airs her concerns “isn’t it weird, coming here from where we were and seeing the world here hasn’t changed a bit”. Her partner is unfazed. This alienation is central to Beyond Her Lens.
Sitting in her dark bedroom flicking through photographs emotions run high, the images of war deliver an emotive kick but, more importantly, the memories they recall haunt our protagonist. This taps into the larger issues present within much journalism, photography and documentary filmmaking—namely, the selfless duty to inform and the damages and sacrifices inherent to that task.
Away from its themes, the film is constantly decorated with beautifully lonely inserts—curtains flapping in the wind, images on walls or emerging from printers—enhancing the transmission of mood from the protagonist to us. Although there is nothing like seeing human emotion unfold on screen, there is a mastery in presenting that personal emotion through still, empty frames. These allow the mood to emanate from the fabric of the film itself, rather than from the characters or themes, and provide a rich emotional energy throughout.
Lukáš Hausenblas’ cinematography is incredible. Drawing beauty from offices, dusty dark bedrooms and warzones alike. However the aestheticisation of war, especially for it’s victims, always comes with heavy baggage—most prominently drawing the attention away from its fear and devastation and redirecting our attention to its aesthetic potential. Furthermore, I can’t help but notice the expressionlessness of the small Iraqi boy as feigned, performing for the camera, instead of truly evoking the feelings and distress of war. Furthermore the utilisation of a stereotypic young child fighting through the war alone, in my eyes, screams emotional manipulation. It could prove far more insightful if these memories were true documentary moments. This would not only bring the film’s themes closer to reality but it would reveal a more traumatic, devastating and, ultimately, true portrayal of the perils of living in a warzone.
Hausenblas’ editing is perfectly silent, drawing together the present, past, future seamlessly. As we endlessly crosscut between time and place I never once felt lost, a rarity for a technique which often causes severe disorientation or complete aesthetic collapse. Moreover, through this technique Hirsch and her team managed to, again, extend the mood outside of the characters and situations. We, like the protagonist, become entangled within this complex narrative web—straddling her stagnant present and exciting, but fragmented, past—inciting exactly the same response in both us, in the theatre, and her. We are both tempted to return to the front lines to really see what is happening, to
live a continuous narrative instead of one stuck between poles. This affirms the team’s technical finesse by perfectly mirroring the film’s narrative themes in its stylistic decisions, making for an incredibly coherent film.
As the film concludes we return to the beginning, but this time it is a moment of redemption instead of one of regret and discomfort. And this scene, like its previous incarnation, perfectly encapsulates the film’s strengths and weaknesses. Through its beautiful cinematography, seamless editing and lusciously emotive score one can’t help but feel the film unfolded as anticipated. Looking back the narrative holds few memorable kinks and the style leaves a want for some experimentation with form. Unless you oppose the maxim beauty is only skin deep, these flaws undermine the film’s phenomenal craftsmanship. However, obtaining such incredible polish so early on in one’s career is certainly enviable and leaves me in anticipation for the great works Hirsch and her team will produce in the future.
- Leo Barton, Bucharest Film Awards