Home Video Hovel- I Want To See
After more than 50 years in the motion picture industry, it’s abundantly clear that Catherine Deneuve, among all her many talents, knows how to pick a project. Not having seen their two previous feature films (Around the Pink House, A Perfect Day), I can’t say for sure what inspired Deneuve to work with the directing team of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. In any case, the partnership proves to be a successful one, as evidence by I Want to See, a movie from 2008 finally getting a domestic DVD release.
The title comes from Denueve’s first line of dialog. Playing herself on the occasion of her first trip to Beirut, for professional reasons, she declares that she wants to visit southern Lebanon and to see with her own eyes the devastation from the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah faction. Most of the rest of this very short film (only 70 minutes total) concerns her exploring this part of the country with her guide/handler, Rabih (Rabih Mroue). Though Deneuve is ostensibly the star of the film, her role here is mostly passive, taking in what she can both through her eyes and through what Rabih tells her.
In one fascinating scene, Rabih attempts to show Deneuve the rubble of what used to be his grandmother’s house but was bombed along with the rest of the block. Yet, when they arrive and see that everything has been reduced to one homogenous pile of stone and dust, he finds himself unable to remember exactly where the house – the one he came to for years – once stood. Later, they pass a beach where great machines are grinding the same sort of debris into small rocks and depositing them into the ocean. The audience starts to become aware that it’s easy to say “I want to see” but far less simple to do so. Lebanon, and other places with similar histories, can’t stand still and become museums, places for liberal Western tourists to feel sad. Lebanon has to keep moving and existing and, as a result, the past must be obscured by the present.
The film’s structure intentionally adds to the layers between the viewer and the intended subject. Though it mostly plays as a documentary of Deneuve’s trip, the movie itself is occasionally interrupted by what seems to be actual reality. One conversation has to be restarted because they’re not allowed to shoot in front of a particular building. Later, the film goes on temporary hold while we and the filmmakers wait for permission from Israel to shoot along the border. These obstacles further illustrate the movie’s theme about the slipperiness of truth.
The essential cohesive – and adhesive – element to the film is the acting. Deneuve is typically reliable, holding the screen even when she’s not talking and displaying her usual lack of vanity. Meanwhile, Mroue reveals himself to be an equally assured presence. Though his character reveres Deneuve, neither he nor the actor are ever overpowered by her.
As mentioned above, I Want to See is a notably brief film. This, as usual, is for the best, as it keeps the film’s heavy subject matter and clever tricks both from ever wearing out their welcome. Though you’ll only spend a little over an hour watching it, the movie is such an effective dissertation on its subject, you’ll be thinking about it for a long, long time after.