Under the Wire

 

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A documentary feature that carries more power than any of this year's filmed fiction.

  

The nondescript title hides here a film of exceptional power that functions on two levels simultaneously. Dealing with events in Syria in 2012, it offers a terrifyingly vivid impression of the devastation wrought by Assad's forces in the city of Homs. That aspect puts the emphasis firmly on the sufferings of the civilian population and not least the women and children living there. At the same time, Under the Wire is a tribute to the dedication of journalists taking foolhardy risks to bring to the wider world a story that they felt had to be told. Central to the film are the American journalist Marie Colvin, who was at that time writing for the Sunday Times, and the photographer Paul Conroy who partnered her. Along with the French photographer Remi Ocjlik, Marie would die there in a bomb attack, but the injured Conroy survived and was revitalised by the need to tell more about the people of Homs now linked to the story of Marie Colvin herself. Appearing as chief narrator in this film by Chris Martin is part of that mission.

 

Under the Wire

 

The tragic and deeply moving story of Homs has already been told on screen, but with a somewhat different emphasis, in the impressive 2013 documentary Return to Homs. That film unlike this one had a local man at its centre. Under the Wire is in contrast built around the personal experiences of journalists (including also Edith Bouvier who was injured in the same attack and William Daniels), but that does not prevent a Syrian translator, Wa'el, from making a striking contribution too. Early on, we get relatively brief background information about Marie and Paul and, in Marie's case, an acknowledgment of her earlier achievements in East Timor in 1999. This dedicated woman could be fearsome, as is admitted here, but she encountered Paul in Libya in 2011 and with their shared attitudes they at once found in each other perfect partners.

 

It might have been the case that Under the Wire would feel anticlimactic after the death of Marie given that by that point the overriding human tragedy of Homs has been fully expressed. But, with the survivors needing to escape, the subsequent events prove equally gripping and Chris Martin, directing solo for the first time but with an earlier co-directing credit alongside John Pilger for another stunning documentary, 2007's The War on Democracy, handles the material admirably in most respects. It may be personal taste rather than valid criticism that leads me to express one reservation here: at intervals, Martin opts for what are quite obviously reconstructions, scenes which, because that is so, keep us at a distance. For me this reduces rather than enhances the impact of what is being said by the survivors and I was also left uncertain as what to make of the fact that the credits list contributions by four actors. No matter: this devastating work is one of the most unforgettable films of the year.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Paul Conroy, Edith Bouvier, Wa'el and with Ziad Abaza, Janine Birkett, Julian Lewis Jones and Karine Myriam Lapouble.

 

Dir Chris Martin, Pro Tom Brisley, Danny Gabai, Stephanie Mavropoulos and Michael Kronish, Screenplay Chris Martin, Ph Steve Organ, Art Dir Bobbie Cousins, Elliot Day, Ouassel Elkilali and Aziz Rafiq, Ed Dudley Sargeant, Music Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott.

 

Arrow Media-Dogwoof.
95 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 7 September 2018. Cert. 15.