(AP) Breeze of Arab Spring felt on Cannes red carpet
By JILL LAWLESS
The ripples of the Arab Spring are being felt in summery Cannes, where films from Egypt and Syria, as well as a passionate documentary about the overthrow of Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, are being screened alongside the latest features from the world’s heavyweight directors.
On Friday the festival lineup included “The Oath of Tobruk,” a highly personal insiders’ account of the uprising by writer and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who was accompanied to a photo call by masked Libyan fighters.
In the film, made with photographer Marc Roussel, Levy gives a robust defense of Western military intervention in Libya _ and calls for the world to do the same in Syria, where the regime of President Bashar Assad has been fighting an uprising for more than a year.Levy _ often known simply as BHL _ is a leading public intellectual in France, where he is known for his impassioned political interventions, dapper dress and mane of salt-and-pepper hair.
The movie is revealing about the background to the Libyan conflict, as Levy’s bulging contacts book delivers interviews with Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, as well as with members of Libya’s new political and military leadership.
Levy was pivotal in persuading Sarkozy, then France’s president, to back air strikes to aid the Libyan rebels, a decision taken up by Cameron, the British leader, and later by President Barack Obama.
Dismissed by critics as an egotist, Levy is not shy about extolling his place in history, explaining in the film’s voiceover his personal desire to overthrow a dictator and right a wrong that has been gnawing at him for 20 years _ “the bleeding wound of Bosnia,” where he says intervention could have saved thousands of lives.
The film, which has been picked up by the Weinstein Co. for distribution in the United States, is open to the criticism of self-centeredness. Some may prefer to see the Libyan story told by Libyans.
Levy used the platform of Cannes to urge the international community to take direct military action in support of the rebels in Syria _ something for which there is, as yet, little appetite among governments.
Elsewhere at the festival, Arab filmmakers are telling stories _ often against considerable odds.
Bassam Chekhes is the first Syrian director ever to be in competition at Cannes, with his short film “Waiting for P.O. Box.”
The director said coming to Cannes was “a dream” _ and a vital link to other filmmakers around the world.
One of the 22 films competing for the Palme d’Or is “After the Battle,” by Egypt’s Yousry Nasrallah.
The story of the relationship between a wealthy Tahrir Square revolutionary and a poor horseman from the Pyramids who has been involved in an attack on protesters, it was filmed in the chaotic interval between the overthrow of Mubarak and this week’s presidential election in Egypt.
Nasrallah said the film crew members were worried about intimidation from supporters of the former regime or Islamists who condemn cinema as a sin. They filmed using a code name to make the movie sound like a romantic comedy.
The director said movie makers have a duty to be bold, despite political uncertainty and the rising influence of religious fundamentalists.
Associated Press Writer Hilary Fox contributed to this report.
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless