"The Road to Guantanamo": Questions on the Road By Vladimir Ignatovski

in 56th Berlinale

by Vladimir Ignatovski

Michael Winterbottom’s name is a guarantee for serious political cinema. It’s enough to mention In This World that carried away the Golden Bear award in Berlin, three years ago. Now with The Road To Guantanamo, together with Mat Whitecross, he won again — the Silver Bear. This time he sets out on a journey in the opposite direction, from England to Afghanistan, and from there to Guantanamo Bay. His protagonists who traveled that distance and spent two years in the sinister US detention camp were also present in Berlin. They walked along the red carpet, attended the press conference, climbed the stage to receive the award together with their director and were acclaimed like genuine heroes.

Winterbottom’s film is a masterly combination of archive footage, re-enactments, precise montage and superb camera work. Yet to my mind there is something that arouses serious doubts. And this is the authors’ stand. Without questioning they accept the allegations of their characters. In an interview Winterbottom said that they wanted to show their point of view — but this uncritical attitude stirs up objections. The heroes’ tale does not sound authentic enough.

Four young Pakistanis, living in Britain, set off to Pakistan to attend the wedding of one of them. The fiancée has been chosen by his parents and approved by the groom, but instead of heading for the wedding ceremony they go to Kabul first. It’s the time the US bombing raids begin. Then they arrived in Kunduz where they get arrested and spend two years in the prison in Guantanamo, eventually acquitted for lack of evidence. Obviously they don’t belong to the leading cadres of Al Qaida as the agents of the US secret services try to prove with no success. Nothing could justify the inhumane treatment and the inquisitions or the existence of a prison like the one in Guantanamo Bay. All of this in The Road To Guantanamo is undeniable. There is something that undermines the authors’ position. Despite all artistry, Winterbottom uses one of the most popular clichés: Islamists seem to be either satanic monsters or unjustly persecuted angels.

Beyond all doubt both views are far away from the truth.