Check It Out: The Mauritanian



From a reader:

The Mauritanian is a 2021 film of great importance and art.

It’s the true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian man who was held for 14 years without charge in Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. Slahi became known worldwide due to his 2015 memoir Guantánamo Diary.

The cast features A-listers Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Foster plays Nancy Hollander, legendary human rights attorney. Cumberbatch plays the military prosecutor who set out to execute Slahi with a vengeance, but who was too bound by law to appease his superiors. (Go here to the film’s website for info on where to watch it.)

But the film is held together by Tahar Rahim, as Slahi, who inhabited his character and put himself through as much as he could tolerate of the torture that Slahi endured. (For interviews with the actors and director, see the Guardian of March 26, 2021, “‘We don't live in a world of goodies and baddies, do we?’ The true story behind The Maurtanian,” by Steve Rose.) Slahi is about as counter-stereotypical as anyone could be with regard to an accused terrorist, with his mercurial sense of humor and empathy for others. One scene in particular resides within me, for its poignancy and beauty; where Rahim as Slahi tries to give some hope to another detainee through a tarp wall. He talks about imagining the waves in the ocean, soothing... and then he clings to a guardrail with one hand and with the other, and his whole body, he becomes the waves.

Director Kevin Macdonald deserves much credit. “The system is the villain and we see the system acting upon people.... It’s not the book that he [Slahi] wrote, this is a story about the breaking of the rule of law,” he says. The film does not feature the villains, the persons of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, or the psychologists who designed the torture used on Slahi. That has the effect of indicting the whole system, even while unnamed.

A very powerful sequence juxtaposes Hollander reading a letter from Slahi and the prosecutor, Couch, reading the MFRs (Memorandum for the Record) that were systematically denied even to the prosecution; and both realizing what had occurred—that Slahi was tortured into confessing acts that he did not commit, finally broken by the threat to abduct his mother to Guantánamo.

Cheers to all who brought this film to the world. Check it out.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi



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