The Seattle Times

July 7th, 2011
‘I Want to See’: a (real) unusual trip through war-torn Lebanon

Ted Fry

A movie review of “I Want to See,” an unusual, challenging, sometimes haunting personal film that stars two real people playing versions of themselves (French actress Catherine Deneuve and Lebanese actor Rabih Mroue) on a road trip through bombed-out southern Lebanon in 2006.

By Ted Fry

Special to The Seattle Times
Opens Saturday

Semidocumentary is a convenient way to describe the unusual, personal film “I Want to See,” but it doesn’t quite capture the immediate, observational tone and meandering structure of a story that really defies description.

The wisp of a concept has a (real) French film actress named Catherine Deneuve taking a road trip to the hazardous locales of southern Lebanon with a (real) Lebanese actor named Rabih Mroue as her guide. Deneuve is in Beirut to attend some unspecified political gala, but she expresses a strong desire for a close look at the war-torn regions for reasons that seem deeply private. “Je veux voir,” she says enigmatically: “I want to see.”

Her entourage of French assistants and small film crew try to convince her of the danger, but she insists.

Shot in the aftermath of the 2006 bombings, the daylong sojourn includes unsettling images of ravaged buildings and people going about their business, with an equal emphasis on the two “real” people in the car. The glamorous Frenchwoman and the handsome, reticent young man are wary of each other as they get acquainted, showing both mistrust and curiosity in exchanges of superficial commentary (“should we wear seat belts?”) and a sociopolitical subtext about what war and ruin has left behind.

Deneuve betrays little emotion, though her ice-queen facade cracks a few times. Mroue’s haunting thoughts begin to echo over ever more oblique imagery of bombed rubble and tangled nests of rebar waiting to be pushed into the sea.

We never really understand if the actress got to see what she wanted to see, and the film ends on an uncertain note — with a final guarded glance between the two companions.

“I Want to See,” a film by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige.