Risk: An enduring state of emergency
by Bénédicte Prot
- CANNES 2016: After Citizenfour, Laura Poitras, filmmaker and spokesperson for whistleblowers, adds a new act to her necessary repertoire, dedicated to Julian Assange
As the title suggests, Risk, Laura Poitras’s film which was presented in Directors’ Fortnight at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, is inhabited by a feeling of urgency and frustration. This atmosphere is linked to the indignation caused by the confinement, for more than three years, of Australian computer programmer and journalist Julian Assange to the Embassy of Ecuador in London, to avoid extradition to Sweden where he faces dubious charges, in the absence of any real grounds for directly attacking the evasive and brave founder of WikiLeaks. This climate is the same one in which Assange and his colleagues (most notably Sarah Harrison and Jacob Appelbaum) have been living for a long time, as they lash out against the unfair practices of surveillance and censorship used by governments that take advantage of technological developments that should free speech, but instead lead to it being policed or used as a weapon against the speaker, or any other party named as ‘guilty’ for the State’s purposes.
Viewers and citizens around the entire world who were floored by Citizenfour [+see also:
film profile] already know that beyond the physical commitment, as a direct and therefore active witness to the cause of whistleblowers, that makes each of Laura Poitras’s films an act of public interest, the documentary maker, journalist and artist never forgets to make her work cinematic at the same time. In the case of Citizenfour, the very circumstances surrounding Edward Snowden’s revelations certainly lent themselves well to her masterful use of the three Aristotelian unities, but she just as admirably highlighted the isolation of her character and therefore made him, whilst completely respecting the aim of her venture, into a real character defined by his act whilst remaining, in all other respects, as anonymous as possible in this world of espionage capable of re-writing the history of everyone and everything by dealing a few disembodied blows of metadata. Here, Aristotle fades away behind a series of chapters filmed over several years that are as hair-raising and senseless as each high-speed chase between the Road Runner and idiotic Coyote, and the character of Assange, whilst also coming close to fading away as an individual behind his cause, is not held at such a distance. But how can you remain objective, even when this is demanded of you, before a man whose private life has been overlooked completely, but which we can see he has sacrificed completely for that of others, without developing a martyr complex as he made his choice as a categorical imperative. Faced with the integrity of a man who says "Let’s not pretend that I’m a normal person. What does it matter how I feel, who gives a damn – I don’t fucking care how I’m feeling", Poitras’s gaze, as witness and party, doesn’t claim to be completely objective either.
And so Risk screams louder than Citizenfour, taking up the torch with repeated batterings in the form of chapters, ten to be precise, each one of which provides enough material for a film in itself, which follow on from one another at a pace that leaves the viewer completely dazed, from one surreal telephone conversation to a ridiculous conference, from the sheer volume of information revealed to the way in which the intrepid WikiLeaks team is hunted like an animal. The viewer also leaves the cinema more aware of how close we all are to the danger that the film exposes, more as a state of emergency, as if the title of Risk appears in red flashing letters, like the little LEDs on all these nerve-racking cameras that follow our every move.
(Translated from French)