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Review: In the world’s war zones, journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy finds ‘The Will to See’

A civilian in the trenches of Donbas with Ukrainian military in the documentary “The Will to See.”
Bernard-Henri Lévy, left, in the trenches in Donbas, Ukraine, with Ukrainian military in the documentary “The Will to See.”
(Marc Roussel / Cohen Media Group)

As documentaries go, few arrive with as much ripped-from-the-headlines urgency as “The Will to See,” an eye-opening return visit to the backdrops of some of the world’s worst atrocities.

Undertaken by filmmaker, philosopher, prolific author and longtime war reporter Bernard-Henri Lévy (and co-director Marc Roussel) just before and during the COVID pandemic, the multicountry tour serves as a hard-hitting reminder of society’s legacy of unfinished business.

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Dispatched by a group of publications, including Paris Match and the Wall Street Journal, to survey the current situations of once headline-grabbing conflicts in Nigeria, Somalia, Libya and Afghanistan, Lévy discovers that war rages on long after the West saw fit to withdraw its support.

Along the way, his visits to the bursting-at-the-seams refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos and the mounting squalor in Bangladesh (the site of his first reportage back in 1971) reveal additional humanitarian crises.

Although Lévy’s impassioned dispatches occasionally exhibit a weakness for purple prose, his mission serves a sobering reminder of those left behind as well as the failure to heed warning signs, especially during an alarm-sounding stopover in Ukraine, where President Volodymyr Zelensky has given Lévy’s crew permission to join the frontline in the Donbas region, the site of conflict with Putin-backed forces since 2014.

“When you look to the people, you have to see something — brains, minds, thoughts, something,” Zelensky explains to the filmmaker in regard to Putin. “I think he has no eyes.”

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Even when the news cycle inevitably moves on to the next big headline, Lévy, now 73, and his cameras can be relied upon to remain behind and bear witness to a not so tidily resolved past.

‘The Will to See’

In English and French with English subtitles

Not rated

Running Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Playing: Starts April 29, Landmark Westwood


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