There is a hypnotic horror and compulsion to watching Eléonore Weber’s chilling There Will Be No More Night. Scene after scene of brutal murder is played out in the crosshairs of gritty black-and-white footage, as if from a low-grade 1980s computer game.
The pilots of military helicopters – from America, France, Britain, or any other of the world powers playing God in the skies above poor, troubled countries from Afghanistan to Syria – will argue that they are soldiers, engaging the enemy under clear rules of engagement.
But what risk do these modern-day macho men take when they casually agree – yet again – that what they see through the sophisticated technology of their helmet-mounted, gun-toting camera is a group of armed men, intent on killing. Killing who? Certainly not the remote helicopter jockeys hundreds, even thousands of metres distant from their prey.
The silhouettes of peasants – armed or not – are «suspicious» whether they are running or huddled under bushes. There is no escape – the cameras see as clearly at night as during the day and can zoom in close enough to pick up the colours and contours of their targets’ clothing.
Weber, who viewed countless hours of horror from military footage, that was never meant to be seen by civilians, consults a French pilot named only as Pierre V. to help interpret the images. He consistently refuses to entertain doubts and sees all the images as men who were «threats».
But it is too easy and – though Weber does not voice direct criticism of Pierre V. – the steady, reasoned narration of a film almost entirely made up of military footage, is a steady drum roll of condemnation.
The pilots of military helicopters… will argue that they are soldiers, engaging the enemy under clear rules of engagement.
The viewer is not spared – for we are all in the western «democracies» complicit in allowing our governments to pursue wars in faraway places, where human life is cheap and omnipotent techno-warriors can kill on a whim.
Computer game pilots
The only thing the pilots fear, Weber tells us, is that they may make a «mistake» – and kill a clearly identifiable, peaceful civilian and then face legal retribution. But that is so rare as to make it more of a barroom joke back at base, rather than a serious worry.
Post-traumatic stress disorder may, one day, stalk these computer-game playing soulless killers, but even that seems remote in the dream-like world today’s military fliers and life-takers inhabit. There is schizophrenia about these men – represented by Pierre V. who insists that he would not want to see a war in his own country, but would welcome another foreign incursion (even as he insists, he has never «seen» death himself.)
A long tradition
The film includes the infamous Wikileaks footage of the killing of Saeed Chmagh, an Iraqi photographer and driver working for Reuters when along with his colleague Namir Noor-Eldeen and others he was slaughtered by a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad on July 12, 2007.
It was this horrific footage – where the pilots insist they can see Saeed carrying an RPG grenade launcher (it was, in fact, a camera tripod) – that brought the modern way of warfare to international attention.
The silhouettes of peasants – armed or not – are «suspicious» whether they are running or huddled under bushes.
Weber’s film perhaps lacks the flinching horror of other recent films on the war of the rich west against the desperate east, such as For Sama and The Cave, but in its anonymity, the icy knowledge that these running blurry figures are about to die in a hail of gunfire and rockets, has a sickening impact that will linger.
In a long and fine tradition of anti-war films, Weber’s documentary is powerful and pointed. Whether it – along with all the other valued and valuable similar works – can ever hope to prompt enough of us to become conscious enough to stop political killing machines is a moot point.
There Will Be No More Night will screen at Cinéma du réel 2020