Review: ‘As if We Were Catching a Cobra’

This is an at-times moving portrait of people already practicing a dangerous trade in a dangerous place.

The problems of art and journalism in Syria and Egypt are worthy matters, especially in light of those countries’ ongoing woes, and “As if We Were Catching a Cobra,” a Syrian-made documentary that addresses issues of imagery and press power, might well appeal to politically minded auds and those curious about oft-ignored aspects of Arab life. Helmer Hala Alabdalla knows her subjects and applies delicate, sure-handed touches to a film devoted, unfortunately, to unconscionably long interviews. Still, this is an at-times moving portrait of people already practicing a dangerous trade in a dangerous place.

Intended as a study of the political cartoon in the Arab world, and instigated by the Danish Mohammed caricature controversy of 2005, the docu gets caught up in the ongoing maelstrom of Syrian violence. While the film was being made, cartoonist Ali Farzat was beaten by pro-Assad thugs and got his hands broken; novelist/essayist Samar Yazbek was arrested and interrogated, ultimately fleeing to France. While there’s a dire immediacy to the film, it would help if it had identified all its subjects and edited its interviews more judiciously.

As if We Were Catching a Cobra

Syria

Production

A Ramad Films and L'oeil Sauvage presentation (International sales: Wide House, Paris.) Produced by Hala Alabdalla, Bloch Bernard, Frederic Feraud. Directed, written by Hala Alabdalla.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Sabine Lancelin, Pierre Dupouey, Alabdalla; editor, Dominique Paris. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Docs), Sept. 13, 2012. Running time: 121 MIN.

With

Samar Yazbek, Hazem Alhamwi, Ali Farzat, Walid Taher, Mohieddine Ellabbad, Makhlouf Amro Selim, Doaa Eladl.

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