VOD film review: Dugma: The Button
Ivan Radford | On 02, Aug 2016
“We long for the moment when we blow them up with a car bomb,” says one person in Dugma: The Button. “But first there’s the wedding.”
It’s an absurd sentence to comprehend, which is exactly why Paul Refsdal’s documentary is such an important film to watch. The phrase “suicide bomber” already conjures up a host of images and preconceptions when you hear it. In an age of complex political tensions in a vast array of countries, we’re presented with a picture of the world by a media that tries to simplify everything. Good, bad, them, us. But the world isn’t black and white – and just because someone is a suicide bomber, that doesn’t mean they’re not a person too.
That was the audacious statement made by Chris Morris’ brilliant Four Lions, a satire that dared to conceive of terrorists as hapless and as caught up in the everyday as we all are. Refsdal goes one step further and shows it in real life.
These are, it’s important to note, not “terrorists” in the sense of people committing acts of terror, destroying tourist landmarks and aiming to kill civilians in other countries: this film follows a few members of a rebel group, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is fighting against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS. They are the soldiers who drive trucks into walls and other barriers to break through to military targets.
They also really like fried chicken.
Refsdal’s access is remarkable, as he joins these men in their day-to-day routines, waiting around for the chance to move up the martyrdom “waiting list”. The film opens with a shocking tour of a vehicle loaded up to explode, complete with an explanation of how the detonation will occur – something that’s presented with the cheerful, innocuous tone of a teenager excitedly showing off their new set of wheels. The word “dugma” (button) is said over and over. It gets more unsettling with each mention.
Our guide to this car bomb is Abu Qaswara al Maki, who smiles throughout his time on camera. We listen to his beautiful singing, as he intones the Quran verses used to justify suicide bombing. We see him interact with others, who share his desire to go to heaven and, “with Allah’s permission”, send their enemies to hell. We also see Abu Basir al Britani, a young British citizen converted to Islam, who talks of what he misses about his home country.
It’s in these tiny details – the watching of video footage of a child that one has never seen, them holding a banana eating contest with local kids – that the film finds its power, as we’re reminded repeatedly that these aren’t monsters, plain and simple. It’s hard to remember that statistics of victims and casualties in wars are humans. It’s even harder to do the same for those on the other side. Refsdal manages that in just 60 minutes, a small window that’s all he needs to humanise these suicide bombers, without judging, condemning or (crucially) endorsing them. This isn’t a political movie, or a platform for them to make their case. In an age of increasingly polarised media, this is something far bolder and more difficult: an unbiased portrait of The Other that dares us to understand them. This is challenging, eye-opening, important viewing.
Dugma: The Button is available now on iTunes around the world.