Sundance Film Festival: “War Story” puts a combat photographer in sharp focus

warstory

Al Gore most famously appeared at the Sundance Film Festival to present his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” Did his presence Sunday night suggest even more global warming doom and gloom to come?

No, Gore was just in the audience at the Egyptian Theatre to support “War Story,” a wrenching indie drama co-written by his daughter, Kristin, and the film’s director, Mark Jackson.

The film is built around a wrenching performance by Catherine Keener as Lee, a shell-shocked combat photographer on her way back from Libya who has retreated to a small town in Sicily. Muttering to herself, closing all the blinds in her hotel room and refusing to let the maids clean her room, something is clearly off about Lee, and the reason for her PTSD gradually becomes clear. While in Libya, her and her reporter partner were captured, and the reporter was executed in front of her.

Desperate to take her mind off the trauma, Lee takes her camera and starts hunting for stories in Sicily, including shooting photos of interned Muslims. Eventually, she runs across a Muslim woman hoping to emigrate to France, and agrees to help her.

The moral landscape of Lee and her motives is fascinating; does she really care about this Muslim woman, or is risk a form of self-medication? The film also deftly draws broader themes of first-world countries who ignore their own problems by imposing their will on those in the third world, with sometimes disastrous results.

The camera is on Keener almost in every frame, following her through the streets, moving in close as she shudders and weeps on her hotel room floor. It’s a fearless, layered performance in a raw and powerful film.

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