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CPH:DOX 2023

Review: Blix Not Bombs


- Greta Stocklassa’s sophomore effort explores the complexities of post-9/11 diplomacy, but ends up asking the wrong questions

Review: Blix Not Bombs

Czech-Swedish documentarian Greta Stocklassa explores identity formation, crucial choices and the inner workings of the present day from a personal and social standpoint. Documentaries, for her, are never solely observational, and she deems it important to interfere and question the status quo, both verbally and visually. Blix Not Bombs, competing for the F:act Award at CPH:DOX, is her sophomore feature, after Kiruna – A Brand New World [+see also:
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, and asks what the role of diplomacy is in politics. Could we have prevented political catastrophes if we hadn’t done things by the book?

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The director is present from the very first shot: a home video sets the scene for a self-reflexive approach to a first-person narrative. Indeed, just as adult Greta shows her eight-year-old self blowing out the candles on her birthday cake and chatting about whatever comes to mind, later, another person will be confronted with a camera and numerous images of his past self. The film’s namesake is Hans Blix, a renowned Swedish diplomat whose work in defusing political tensions across the globe attracted Stocklassa’s attention in the first place. No context is given as to how or why she initially approached her compatriot, and they almost never talk about the interviews as a film in the making. The lack of such information makes this documentary portrait feel a bit too relaxed, given the seriousness of its themes and tone.

Stocklassa speaks for all of us who, growing up in the 1990s, briefly lived a life that made perfect sense: Europe was changing, and peace was a promise everyone was keen on keeping. For Blix Not Bombs, the director uses an abundance of newsreels that seem to have been meticulously gleaned from all sorts of television channels, arranging them in a media retrospective of their own, with subtle voice-over comments: “Is this the reality of growing up,” the filmmaker ponders, “or is it all just getting worse?” Even if these documents retell our recent history quite well, there are a few too many images of natural disasters, wars and suffering refugees that we know all too well right now, including the fall of the Twin Towers.

This is where Blix comes into the spotlight of US politics. Even though he had been an active diplomat since the 1960s, working for the UN and nuclear safety following the Chernobyl disaster, his name is mostly associated with him leading the inspections of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the US invasion in 2003. Stocklassa is interested in the way the muted conflict between inspectors and politicians evolved in the run-up to the war, and she doesn’t shy away from questioning the role of moral duty, blame and the possibility of prevention. She even draws parallels with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and makes a point about history repeating itself, as world leaders rely too heavily on diplomatic codes. Even if she aligns with the appeal to listen to one another in order to live in peace, the conversations she has with Blix are often frustratingly steered away from an important meta-reflection on diplomacy itself.

Instead, Stocklassa holds Blix responsible – or, more specifically, she’s surprised that he doesn’t hold himself accountable for the full-scale invasion. Ethical issues are always thorny, and the director is honest enough to always include herself – her voice, her face – as part of the conversation, instead of solely using the camera to build up a condemning narrative. However, her frustration highlights the divide between private and public morals in conducting politics, a realm unfortunately well beyond the grasp of an ordinary person.

Blix Not Bombs was produced by Pink Productions (Czech Republic) in co-production with Corso Film (Germany) and Sisyfos Film Production (Sweden).

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