TIFF 2015 Review: Je Suis Charlie
Je Suis Charlie tells the story of the day the office of French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was attacked by terrorists after visually depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The attackers claimed to be avenging the prophet and in doing so, killed twelve people at the newspaper’s headquarters including several notable cartoonists, before fleeing to continue the violence. This documentary takes a somber look at the lives of those killed and the impact they had on those around them and French social politics. It also explores with some depth the role of media and the issues of free speech and religion.
The attacks on Charlie Hebdo were a grim affair and the film is similarly bleak, only occasionally brightened by a warm reminiscing and laughter. The directors, Daniel and Emmanuel Leconte, mostly overcome the natural challenge of making a film so quickly after a tragedy by sticking to a simple, no-frills retelling of that day. Each survivor shares their own harrowing account and the film succeeds with a very tight narrative.
There are controversial statements in interviews that go unexplored and the film meanders towards the end despite remaining engaging. The film is very straight forward in its sympathy of the victims and in its support of the magazine. Those interviewed are encouraged to share their frustration. This frustration, combined with the bravery and intelligence of the survivors and victims, give the film energy. As Je Suis Charlie frequently remind us, these people were just cartoonists with lives like anyone else, and they didn’t lose their nerve or their humanity upon becoming so much more.