×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Oath of Tobruk

Followers of global politics will be surprised to learn that Bernard-Henri Levy is responsible for the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi, but that's the story Levy tells in "The Oath of Tobruk," co-helmed with Marc Roussel.

With:
With: Bernard-Henri Levy, Gilles Hertzog, Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron, Hillary Clinton, Mahmoud Jibril, Gerard Araud, Susan Rice, Suleiman Fortia, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Abdoulaye Waye, Ehud Barak, Tom Bishop, Abdel Fattah Younes, Mansour Seif Al-Nasr, Ali Zeidan. Narrator: Bernard-Henri Levy. (French, English, Arabic dialogue)

Followers of global politics will be surprised to learn that Bernard-Henri Levy is responsible for the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi, but that’s the story Levy tells in “The Oath of Tobruk,” co-helmed with Marc Roussel. Levy is France’s media star philosopher, a peculiarly Gallic creation whose immaculate tailoring and savvy self-promotion make him the darling of celeb rags and higher institutions. With “Tobruk,” he’s finally been subsumed by his own ego, placing himself front and center of Libya’s revolution and barely acknowledging other forces. Such self-aggrandizement will play to only acolytes at home.

Though the Weinsteins picked up the docu pre-Cannes, it’s unlikely even PBS will run such a baldly skewed piece of reportage; perhaps Levy has other projects whose potential makes “Tobruk” seem like a prudent acquisition. It’s certainly not the best vehicle to introduce BHL (as he’s known at home) to Stateside auds, since his nonstop theatricalized narration, interminable use of the first person, and treatment of the Libyan desert as little more than a GQ fashion shoot with himself as model don’t make for a sympathetic portrait. Nor together do they say much about the real nature of Gaddafi’s defeat.

BHL entered Libya in March 2011 together with sidekick Gilles Hertzog (Ed McMahon to Levy’s Johnny Carson). His appearance was informed by 20 years of guilt, when his cry for intervention in Bosnia (the subject of his 1994 docu “Bosna”) went largely unheeded. Convinced that the West must intervene in Libya, he crisscrossed the globe, using his access to the halls of power to spur leaders into military action.

According to “Tobruk,” that’s pretty much all it took. Interviews with Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron, Hillary Clinton and others are edited to reflect BHL’s importance and glory, while scenes of adulatory crowds cheering him in Benghazi testify to his skills in selling himself as the embodiment of First World action. The chaotic nature of the opposition is nowhere seen, and there’s little sense of what was happening on the battlefields.

In New York, Levy ruminates on parallels between his mission and that of Andre Malraux during the Spanish Civil War, when the French intellectual championed the anti-fascist Abraham Lincoln Brigade. A more accurate comparison is with Gabriele D’Annunzio, the famously bellicose and spectacularly self-absorbed Italian writer who similarly dispensed advice on military strategy.

Viewers can agree with BHL’s belief in the necessity for Western intervention while questioning the centrality of his role in the enterprise’s apparent success. His stumping session in Israel, in particular, shows an astonishing lack of understanding of the geo-Arab situation, and there’s an unpleasant triumphalism in the way he swipes at Francois Mitterand while boasting of his friendship with Sarkozy.

Through it all, whether in a private jet or the bombed-out streets of Misrata, Levy sports his signature black suit and perfectly pressed white shirts (on especially hot days he compromises with a long-sleeved white t-shirt under the jacket; the bulge of a bullet-proof vest is occasionally visible). The incongruity of his clothing makes him appear a clueless monarch among his unfortunate subjects, and “Tobruk” plays like an illustration of the old joke, “Enough about me. What do you think of my hair?”

Disturbing amateur footage, including shots of Gaddafi’s battered corpse, provide the only sources of genuine potency. Music, taken from the most dramatic portions of Bruckner, Mahler and others, fits with Levy’s amour-propre.

The Oath of Tobruk

France

Production: A Margo Cinema presentation of a Margo Cinema, Studio 37, Arte France Cinema production, with the participation of Canal Plus, Arte France. (International sales: Rezo Films, Paris.) Produced by Francois Margolin. Co-producers, Frederique Dumas, Michel Reilhac, Remi Burah. Directed by Bernard-Henri Levy, Marc Roussel.

Crew: Camera (color, B&W, HD), Roussel; editor, Vojtech Janyska; music, Julien Schultheis; sound, Laurent Jas, Antoine Bailly. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Special Screenings), May 25, 2012. Running time: 108 MIN.

Cast: With: Bernard-Henri Levy, Gilles Hertzog, Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron, Hillary Clinton, Mahmoud Jibril, Gerard Araud, Susan Rice, Suleiman Fortia, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Abdoulaye Waye, Ehud Barak, Tom Bishop, Abdel Fattah Younes, Mansour Seif Al-Nasr, Ali Zeidan. Narrator: Bernard-Henri Levy. (French, English, Arabic dialogue)

More Scene

  • Dan Stevens

    'Legion' Star Dan Stevens Says His Character Would Fight Thanos, 'Wreak Havoc' in MCU

    Dan Stevens said his powerful, telepathic mutant Legion would do some serious damage if he ever crossed over from the eponymous FX series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Legion would wreak havoc. He’d probably take on Thanos, let’s see that,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of the trippy, mind-bending superhero series [...]

  • Anthony Anderson LADF

    Why Anthony Anderson and Billie Jean King are Giving Back with the Dodgers Foundation

    Celebrities and athletes came together at the Dodgers Foundation Blue Diamond Gala to celebrate the team’s commitment to supporting youth and to catch a glimpse of the event’s headliner: Bruno Mars. Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss were honored at the fifth annual event, which raised over $3 million for programs benefiting Los Angeles youth. [...]

  • Shia LaBeouf poses at the premiere

    Shia LaBeouf to Host Birthday Fundraiser for Slauson Rec. Theater Company

    Shia LaBeouf is celebrating his 33rd birthday by giving back. The actor, who turned 33 on June 11, will host a fundraising concert later this month for the Slauson Rec Theater Company, a 10-month-old free performing arts program he co-founded in downtown Los Angeles. The night will also include a preview of the Slauson Rec [...]

  • Awkwafina, Lulu Wang Celebrate New York

    Awkwafina Wants 'The Farewell' to Break Boundaries of Cultural Differences

    Family dysfunction is universal despite cultural differences. That’s what writer and director Lulu Wang wants audiences to take away from her film “The Farewell” starring Awkwafina. “This movie will teach us universality out of specificity. There’s something that we can all kind of relate to across cultures. There’s something we still have to learn about [...]

  • Elizabeth Debicki

    Elizabeth Debicki Talks About Being Supported by Other Women in Hollywood

    Elizabeth Debicki is looking to the future — which makes sense, since she was named Women in Film and Max Mara’s “Face of the Future” for 2019. “No pressure,” Debicki laughed when Variety asked the actress about the honor on the red carpet. “It means a great deal. I have always deeply respected the work [...]

  • Carla Gugino Jett

    How Carla Gugino Is Redefining the Anti-Hero in Cinemax's Crime Drama 'Jett'

    “This is like no character I’ve ever played,” Carla Gugino told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of Cinemax’s “Jett” on Tuesday night. “I think television is filled with great roles for women, which is such a godsend these days. But the anti-hero — there’s still a double standard there.” In the new series, Gugino [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content