A famous French actress (Catherine Deneuve) visiting Beirut takes a trip to south Lebanon to see the damage from the 2006 war as the reconstruction gets underway, with a local actor (Rabih Mroué) as her guide, driver, and commentator. A camera crew also tags along to make a "documentary" of their excursion. The two play versions of themselves in quotation marks—Deneuve the well-meaning European determined to see the truth with her own eyes, shaded by the perspective of privilege and outsider status; Mroué the ambivalent host putting the evidence of past wars and present rebuilding in personal terms. The unspoken politics behind their small talk is the elephant in the car—an intellectual tease that by the end feels like contrivance. What's been described as a documentary/fiction hybrid, directed by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, is really more of a conceptual art piece: strangers talking in a car as the world goes by outside. It's like an Abbas Kiarostami film without the discipline or the design. Fittingly for the title, I Want to See is best when the cameras are turned outward to look at the passing scenery: urban ruins like rotting corpses; a village leveled to rubble; a coast buried in mountains of tangled rebar and broken concrete; the surf turned orange from the detritus. Yet some of this verdant, green Lebanese countryside looks like a rural idyll, maybe even fit for tourists—except, of course, for the land mines. What strives to be a film essay never develops past a sketch, often vivid but more self-conscious than illuminating.
Mroué and Deneuve on an experimental tour.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Sat., July 9â€“Thurs., July 14. Not rated. 75 minutes.