By Admin | January 20, 2014

Lee (Catherine Keener) is a war photojournalist who has just returned to Sicily following a traumatic event in Libya. Her external bruises and fractures do not compare to the internalized pain from witnessing the murder of her cohort while they were both held captive by Libyan militants during the Arab Spring. Clearly suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, Lee seeks refuge in a familiar hotel room, one which she spent some time in recently.

Occasionally, Lee wanders the streets of Sicily with her camera, particularly near a containment camp where undesirable refugees seek asylum from their war torn Arabian homelands. Lee discovers a young woman from the containment camp, Hafsia (Hafsia Herzi), who looks remarkably similar to the subject of a haunting photograph that she shot in Libya. As it turns out, Hafsia is in dire need of an abortion and Lee offers to take advantage of her connections at the local hospital to assist her. However, the conservatively-minded Sicilian doctors continually refuse to perform the abortion out of principle. Lee and Hafsia provide much-needed emotional support for each other as they plan to escape the Sicilian Limbo in which they find themselves hopelessly trapped.

Mark Jackson’s War Story functions as a languid visual essay that passively contemplates Lee’s warped psychological state, while avoiding any exposition of the events that triggered her present state of mind. Essentially an impressionistic character study that forgoes any semblance of traditional development, War Story relies quite heavily upon the audience to piece together random strings of oblique clues to establish some sort of an interpretation of Lee’s persona. Jackson’s penchant for weaving listlessly minimalistic narratives leaves plenty of blanks for the audience to fill in, adopting a vague plot trajectory that is reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni’s visually profound psychological studies of the early 1960s (with a possible nod to The Passenger). Similar to Antonioni, Jackson relies upon mood-driven cinematography to establish a visual landscape that reflects Lee’s mental state, as the musical score creates a haunting aural soundscape that communicates the horrific memories that riddle her mind.

War Story functions practically as a sequel to Jackson’s previous feature, Without (2011), with both films centering on highly introverted females who have retreated to the secluded safety of islands out of self-punishment and paranoiac fear. Utilizing unnervingly nightmarish tones and atmospheres, Jackson has developed two purely experiential films that are masterfully designed to fully engage the audience, trapping us within the suffering minds of his protagonists. These are by no means easy films to consume, but the sheer challenge of Jackson’s unique brand of cinema makes the experience totally worthwhile.

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