War and Peace review – sprawling film essay on horror images of war

·2 min read

Since its invention, cinema has played a crucial role in how images of war are created and immortalised in the popular imagination. Divided into four chapters, Massimo D’Anolfi and Martina Parenti’s sprawling documentary throws the supposed neutrality of the camera up in the air, probing how photography is more than a witness; it can also be an integral cog in the war machine.

Restored by film archivists from the ravages of time, flickering, scratchy footage of the Italian-Turkish war of 1911-12 jumpstarts this cinematic odyssey; it also alights at the Crisis Unit of the Italian ministry of foreign affairs and ECPAD, the audiovisual wing of the French ministry of defence. From a 1911 public hanging of Turkish men in Trieste to the current unrest in Syria, the horrors of war are front and centre, yet organisations such as the Crisis Unit or ECPAD are where images get dissected with critical distance. Training classes at ECPAD, for example, involve analysing photographs for their informational value, instilling in the soldiers the importance of creating audiovisual materials with military interests in mind.

In covering such a wide range of topics, however, the film seems to lose sight of what it is trying to accomplish towards the end. The fourth chapter returns to the refrigerated vaults of film archives, stressing the value of preservation work. Yet this section also includes various clips of wartime brutality with no context. Since the previous chapters go to great length to establish the ideology that lies behind the production of such images, this careless insertion of footage tends to defeat the film’s own purpose. In focusing on how audiovisual materials are scrutinised elsewhere, War and Peace neglects to interrogate its own relationship to the images of war.

• War and Peace is available on 18 August on True Story.