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IDFA 2021

Review: After a Revolution

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- Giovanni Buccomino's account of the lives of two siblings post-Libyan Revolution is ambitious and sprawling, but fails to achieve all it sets out to do, which was probably impossible from the get-go

Review: After a Revolution

The second feature-length documentary by Italian filmmaker Giovanni Buccomino, After a Revolution, is an account of two siblings first separated by the Libyan Revolution and then brought back together by the events that followed it – and which continue to this day. Ambitious and not fully accomplished, it perhaps attempts the impossible. It world-premiered in the International Competition of the recent IDFA.

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The opening narrative titles inform us that when the Revolution started, Myriam and Haroun found themselves on opposite sides: she fought on the side of the rebels, and he joined the last Gaddafi loyalists in his and her home city of Bani Walid. After the dictator was killed, she, a medical professional, was disgusted by the immediate power grab, needless killings and the rising tide of the radical, Salafist branch of Islam, and crossed over to the other side.

The film starts in earnest some time after the events of 2011, but it never time-stamps the proceedings that follow. This is one of its problems: even though several narrative titles help us make sense of particular segments, such as a reconciliatory meeting in Bani Walid, where Haroun is banned and Myriam struggles to get a word in edgeways – without us understanding whether this is because of her bold attitude or her political affiliation, or simply because she is a woman – Buccomino's character-driven, observational documentary partly fails because of the virtually impossible task he takes upon himself to give it a clear political and social backdrop.

Still, the film has a great deal of insight, emotion and excitement to offer in its 121 minutes, and not only for viewers interested in Arab Spring-related topics. The characters are literally heroes: Myriam is the only female frontline warrior from the rebel side (called “Dirty Rebel” by her opponents and Doshka, after a machine gun, by her allies), and Haroun is a determined defender of his local shrine that the Salafists keep destroying and he keeps rebuilding. Fierce and outspoken, both go through horrific ordeals for their ideals, which Myriam keeps insisting have always been the same despite them initially being on opposite sides: they are both fighting for Libya.

This is, however, something that tribal groups and militias who wrangle for domination may proclaim that they agree with, but we know they don't actually mean it. When Myriam runs for parliament, she is promised votes from her whole tribe, only to be betrayed on election day. Hounded and threatened, she ends up in Tunisia with her husband and children, and Haroun joins her when he gets wounded – after also being persecuted on social media.

When Buccomino focuses on the siblings and their inner lives, the film blooms, and the spectator gets deeply emotionally engaged. Perhaps it was not even necessary to use the admittedly beautiful score by Polish composer Jacaszek so excessively – or flashbacks, a device that belongs more to the field of fiction. Not that this is an illegitimate approach in any way, but the emotions that the heroes hardly ever hold back provide enough to enable the audience to connect with them and feel their plight, which, we have to assume, was the goal all along.

After a Revolution is a co-production between Italy's Bad Donkey Production and EiE Film, Canada's EyeSteelFilm, and US outfit Urban Republic.

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