VOD film review: There Will Be No More Night
Cathy Brennan | On 25, Jan 2022
Director: Éléonore Weber
Cast: Nathalie Richard
2007 was a pivotal year for the aesthetics of contemporary warfare. From November, millions of gamers played a Call of Duty mission in which they controlled an AC-130 gunship through the perspective of the gunner’s distinctive monochrome camera, in which the soon-to-be blasted enemies appeared as powerless white specks. Earlier that year, a similar scene occurred in real life when two AH-64 Apache helicopters conducted an attack in Baghdad, killing at least a dozen people (including two journalists) and wounding two children. The remarkably similar footage from one of the gunner’s cameras, which came to be called Collateral Murder, was leaked by Chelsea Manning and published by Wikileaks in 2010. Whether through video game power fantasy, or footage of a war crime, the pixelated grayscale screen branded with a wreath of white-text display information, symbolised the way the West wages war: imperious, inhuman, unfeeling.
In Eléonore Weber’s documentary There Will Be No More Night, excerpts from Collateral Murder only make up a small fragment of a larger tapestry. Weber’s film is almost entirely composed of footage from both French and US attack helicopters in various theatres of conflict, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Yet her attempts to interrogate the imperialist gaze within these images ultimately fail, resulting in a film that is undeniably depressing, but lacking in insight.
Weber contextualises her found footage through a voiceover narration cooly delivered by French actor Nathalie Richard. Casting a famous star to deliver a personal narrative comes across as a distancing technique in a film that is also seeking to critique the eerie sense of alienation that comes from war waged through the lens of the camera. Throughout the film, Weber (through Richard’s voice) refers back to her conversations with an attack helicopter pilot called Pierre V. Weber takes his thoughts and filters it through her own subjectivity as an intellectual. Together, they lack the perspective of those who are victims to this type of warfare and so the film is lacking in any real empathy.
Weber draws attention to how the camera can see beyond the human eye, yet remains subject to a certain degree of unreliability. There’s the fallibility of the human operating it, but the grainy footage also makes it possible for a farm tool to be mistaken for a rifle or for a camera tripod to be mistaken for an RPG. Weber is adopting a Western individualist perspective that unintentionally excludes the humanity of those killed in her collected footage, because she does not meaningfully delve into the geopolitical context that produced such footage in the first place.
Ultimately, Weber’s detached and wishy-washy observations come to resemble the pixelated abstraction of the footage in which real people are killed. The film’s failure to deliver insight prompts more serious questions about the repackaging of this footage into cultural product.
It’s been over a decade since the world saw the footage from Collateral Murder. Since then, excerpts have made their way into films ostensibly critiquing the US. In the West, the use of drones, attack helicopters, and gunships to kill people is widely known. When does the replaying of footage from these machines via the mediums of film and art installations simply become an extension of the violence that these cultural objects purportedly decry? It is beyond the abilities of this critic to provide the answer, and it is also beyond this documentary.