A Film a Week - When the War Comes / Az pride válka

Documentaries on the topic of the rise of populism have been hugely popular in the recent years and the trend will continue in the years to come, as it is the case with the refugee crisis / migration-themed films. It is not strange by any means: documentaries are mirroring reality (comes with the territory) and in some cases offer the key to understand the social phenomena going on. And populism is not just a Central European post-communist thing anymore, hence the new Austrian government, Brexit n the UK and the rise of Donald Trump in the USA.

Jan Gebert’s sophomore documentary feature When the War Comes works best as a case study of the rise of a future star of populism through the ranks of local militia Slovak Recruits. Their self-proclaimed leader Peter is young, charming, eloquent and a natural-born leader. He lives a normal life with his parents and his girlfriend and the only thing strange with him is his “hobby”. Every weekend he goes to the woods in rural Slovakia with his friends and serves as an instructor at a military-style training camp, complete with automatic weapons, national flags and uniforms.

His first encounter with the police highlights his character: he is being reprimanded for the using of national insignia (which is illegal for the organizations without the official government sanction), but that is it, the policemen even shake his hand. Later on, the usage of symbols and rhetorics from the Nazi-backed Slovak puppet state from the WW2 times does not get noticed: Peter and his comrades are being welcomed to schools, TV debates and even appear on the celebrations where the prime minister Robert Fico is present. Recruiting the new Recruits from the ranks of high school youngsters was never a problem for them. Seems like Peter’s rise to stardom in the arena of national politics is just a matter of time…

Film-wise and otherwise, When the War Comes does not bring anything that new on the table, but it does not have to. It is an honest examination from close by, without any kind of Gebert’s comment, but also without hiding or masking a thing. We see all the ideological nonsense and the white noise of half-truths and miss-information. Anti-Islam, anti-globalism, anti-communism, traditionalism, nationalism, Christianity and pan-Slavism are all mixed up here in a toxic and heavily flammable mix. So, the infamous bikers Night Wolves fit perfectly once when they show up in the film.

Having all that in mind, did When the War Comes deserve the world premiere in Berlinale’s Panorama Dokumente Section? Well, yes and no: it is not that new and attractive in the terms of topic and style, but it is on the same page with the current political moment.

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