Eleven months ago, I posted on this blog about a Museum of Modern Art screening of a superb Canadian film called Six Figures; the problem was, I waited until the day before the movie was set to play to get the word out.
Well, now I’ve gone and done it again – War Hospital, co-directed by Six Figures helmer David Christensen, shows tomorrow night (Saturday February 17) at 6:15 pm, and then again on Wednesday, February 28 at 830 PM as part of MOMA’s annual documentary showcase. (Christensen will be on hand for a Q & A after the Saturday night screening.) Most of you probably have weekend plans – and I’m guessing Ghost Rider is involved – but having seen both films, I can safely say that War Hospital is the better choice (even if it doesn’t feature Nic the Tic pathologically swigging jelly beans around in a martini glass while watching a monkey practice kung-fu on television).
If the elegantly allusive mise-en-scène and creeping middle-class unease of Six Figures (which still hasn’t popped up on DVD) suggested a fruitful union between Edward Yang and Michael Haneke, War Hospital reminds strongly of Frederick Wiseman: it’s a nimble yet substantive slice of institutional verité set in the world’s largest field hospital in Northern Kenya. Lopiding Hospital, founded and staffed, by the International Committee of the Red Cross, is the main destination for victims of the Sudanese Civil war; depending on where you stand on its sprawling grounds, the place is either a teeming hive of activity or a deathly silent tomb.
The film’s impact lies in Christensen and Lewis’s understanding of exactly when and where to shoot. The texture is absolutely riveting, alternately fly-on-the-wall and on-the-fly. The lack of a narrator or talking heads gives War Hospital the feeling of a headlong plunge, but there’s no sense of obfuscation for its own sake: the compassion and curiosity underpinning the project are palpable in every frame. Christensen himself calls the film “cubist, but its multiplicity of perspectives are amazingly clear-eyed.