The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat, 2012.
Directed by Richard Symons.
Revealing interviews and archive footage are used to tell the story of Yasser Arafat, the controversial Palestinian leader. This is the first of twelve documentaries intending to show the lives of some of the world’s most influential leaders.
Considering one of my last reviews was about capital punishment, I thought I’d write about a subject everyone can agree on. So here’s my review on a film about the Middle East. Boom boom.
Okay, as hilarious as I obviously am, it’s time to get down to the seriousness. Even people who know nothing (that would be me) know the Middle East is a divisive subject. So this film is definitely a good springboard for the series of documentaries looking into the tough lives world leaders have to go through.
It starts off well enough, with the obligatory quote about war and peace (except unlike most overblown war movies, this quote actually stands up to some scrutiny). The first thing I noticed was the nice looking shots of presumably modern day Palestine/Israel, which were impressive but perhaps a tad unnecessary considering most of the film consisted of ordinary-looking interviews and archive footage.
It’s a bit of a shame that Yasser Arafat could only respond through archive footage. From what people say, he was a charismatic leader who even worked to recruit youngsters to his cause side. Not that Arafat was brainwashing people. He was an honourable man, doing whatever it took to bring peace to the land he loved, against adversity at every step, succeeding where everyone else failed. Wait a minute. This sounds more like the pitch to a Hollywood epic.
Okay, I exaggerate slightly, but the documentary did seem to slightly gloss over some of the more controversial aspects of his leadership. It’s not a film that’s designed to paint him as perfect, but the problem with this documentary is that it paints a highly divisive figure as a plucky, opportunistic protagonist who pleaded for peace from the very beginning.
I was also interested to know if Arafat was seen in a similar light (a courageous leader of rebels being pushed into a corner by opposing forces) back then as he was in this film. What the world thought of Arafat wasn’t included in the documentary. The repercussions of his actions seemed to be missing or seemed to carry much less weight than they should have.
Though it doesn’t just focus on Arafat. At the right point, the narrative moves away from him and into an engaging history lesson of sorts about the conflict. This is ideal if, like me, you know a little about the conflict but aren’t confident about the who’s, what’s, where’s and why’s. The pacing could’ve been improved by a long way, though. While the story interested me enough, and I know the last thing you want to do with a documentary is spice it up too much, I felt a few more peaks and troughs along the way would’ve helped. The narrative also stays away from Arafat for too long at times, giving the documentary a less than personal feel.
Interviews obviously help remedy this. A wide range of people feature for this film, both friends and enemies, including his wife who provides the closest ‘behind the scenes’ look at Arafat. I don’t know if it was my cynicism shining through like a light, but when she insisted he was never weak a tinge of suspicion entered my brain. But nothing was made of it in the film.
And that’s the main problem I have with the film. It turned into a short review of the Middle East as opposed to a deep look into what it takes to be a leader in the toughest political climate in recent, if not all, history. The issues and conflicts in the Middle East mean you’d need a team of experts to make a documentary series that would literally go on for days in order to fully understand what everything really means. And even then, the experts will probably disagree with each other.
It needed to be a lot more personal, which is obviously a lot easier to do with a leader who’s still alive. It had a decent story and a decent angle, but needed to probe a lot deeper to be of any relevance.
For more information, visit the official site.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ** / Movie ***