A Polish-Swedish woman goes to Algeria to film death and destruction but discovers love in Agnieszka Lukasiak’s “Nameless War.” The war has raged in the African nation since 1990, and this rambling polyglot film diary may more accurately reflect the unfocused feel of the country and the conflict than a more structured, objective account would. Docu should thrive in festival settings, but, since the war is hardly a hot topic and the film refuses any facile summing-up of issues, pic’s a long-shot for release outside public television or adventurous indie channels.
Filmmaker Agnieszka Lukasiak (Aga, for short) sees images of a bloody baby bottle and a bombed-out bus during an un-subtitled Swedish newscast and is compelled to leave Sweden for Algeria. She sheepishly explains she has no direction in her life and thinks facing danger and suffering would prove life-affirming.
Once she arrives in Oran though, her first sight of young men drunkenly partying to American rock ‘n’ roll scarcely corresponds to the TV pictures. Arrested for filming without permission or military escort, Aga’s search for the war is temporarily sidetracked by her growing attraction to her host, Habib, and the complications of their cross-cultural love affair. Kicked out of Habib’s parents’ house, Aga goes to Poland but returns a month later to try to reconnect with her amour.
Precisely when romance begins to determine her actions, the road from Algiers to Oran turns into a terrifying journey through the landscape of war. Her driver (his face blurred out to prevent identification) and a Polish-speaking Algerian friend recount horror stories of unprovoked massacres and death squads disguised as government patrols. The men’s fear is palpable as they question why on earth they are accompanying her, losing patience with her suicidal attempts to film outside the car. Black-and-white images, monochromatic passages and full-color footage interweave as the various cameras are whipped out, abruptly hidden, turned off or on.
Lukasiac makes little effort to explain this war, which was dubbed “nameless” by the French in recognition of its complexity and formlessness. Equally inchoate, Lukias’ diary becomes a photo album of her love affair, a close-up confessional of private fears, an experimental video of chromatic contrasts and repeating images, plus a documentary forum for disenfranchised youth. Gay friends tell of living in a state which outlaws homosexuality. Aga’s friend Sara addresses feminist issues, while images of women and little girls bowing down in prayer form a visual counterpoint.
Oddly, though few talk of the war, it’s strongly felt in the general uncertainty of these French- English and Arabic-speaking youth who find it difficult to conceive of any future. Pic doesn’t end so much as stop short, cutting off when Habib is drafted.