The Deminer (3 stars)

The Deminer

Documentary capturing the courageous efforts of one man in war-torn Mosul

'Major Fakhir is walking towards death,' crackles an Israeli voice over the radio, as we watch a man clad in army fatigues strolling down a rubble-strewn street towards a car believed to be packed with explosives. It could be a scene out of a Hollywood actioner but, in fact, it's all very, very real. The man we're watching is Fakhir Berwari, a father of eight who spends his working life finding and defusing bombs and mines in war-torn Mosul; initially those planted by supporters of toppled president Saddam Hussein and, later, Islamic State.

Through a combination of combat videos and professional footage shot by cinematographer Shinwar Kamal (who co-directs with Hogir Hirori), all filmed between 2003 and 2008, we watch as Fakhir defuses hundreds of devices armed with nothing but a pair of clippers, from roadside bombs to entire villages rigged to explode. Although he's been involved in several explosions himself, one of which killed several of his colleagues and another in which he lost his leg, Fakhir resolutely refuses to give up, despite enduring constant pain from his basic prosthetic. 'If I fail, only I will die,' is his taciturn explanation. 'If I succeed, many will survive.'

The filmmakers have effectively shaped the reams of footage into a cohesive portrait of a determined man in action, and it's impossible not to be impressed and moved by Fakhir's efforts. This fly-on-the wall approach also brings a devastating immediacy to conflict in the Middle East, capturing the sheer scale of the human tragedy that's unfolding on a daily basis.

While Fakhir's bravery should certainly be celebrated, there is a sense that Kamal and Hirori have focused on amping up the suspenseful element of his work at the expense of any individual or political context. There are snippets of interviews with Fakhir's family who express their fear and pride, but nothing of substance from Fakhir away from the matter-of-fact way he carries out his disposal activities; at one point, he takes a call from a debt collector while clearing a house. And, aside from a couple of TV clips with Presidents George W Bush and Obama to anchor the timeline, nothing to explain the intricacies of the ongoing violence in Mosul.

But that, perhaps, is the point. For normal people caught up in that relentless cycle of violence it is a question of everyday survival rather than global politics, and individuals like Fakhir offer a glimmer of hope amidst the dust and rubble. There's a reason that many businesses in the area still have his picture hanging on the wall: he is a local hero who deserves international recognition.

Limited release from Fri 27 Apr.

The Deminer

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • Sweden
  • 1h 23min
  • Directed by: Hogir Hirori, Shinwar Kamal

Impressive and moving documentary about Major Fakhir Berwari, a bomb and mine defusal specialist in war-torn Mosul. Combat videos and professional footage follow him as he defuses hundreds of devices armed with only a pair of clippers. The emphasis is on suspense rather than context, but Berwari comes across as a local…