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TIFF 2013 Review: The Unknown Known


The Unknown Known

The penchant for notes and precision of language of Donald Rumsfeld, and sometimes lack thereof, is at the heart of this curious documentary by filmmaker Errol Morris about the world before and after 9/11. Cinematic, almost whimsical, the title comes from a memo – one of hundreds of thousands former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has sent over his lengthy career – where he tries to educate readers when it comes to life – and war.

It can be a bit confusing, a bit funny, and a bit shocking, that last part especially when considering Rumsfeld’s influence – laughter borders on astonishment. Morris has been granted an interview with Rumsfeld, which ostensibly is the feature doc itself, shot from various cameras against a black background, with Rumsfeld especially charismatic and rather candid.

At times neither seems exactly sure why they are there.

Morris asks questions off camera, Rumsfeld smiles and answers, discussing torture, Saddam Hussein, Richard Nixon, and even his wife. The creative direction of Morris, floating black and white backgrounds across the screen and carrying through a snowy motif, paired with the strange magnetism of Rumsfeld make this riveting if not odd. A Danny Elfman soundtrack is particularly haunting when it’s not magical.

It is insightful, with some revelations, but apolitical – Rumsfeld is neither made to be sympathetic nor vilified. Still, his words, which Morris throws up on the screen (with the occasional definition attached to dramatic or humourous ends) have shaped the world – we just have to remember what they mean.

Sunday September 8 – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 – 6:45 PM
Tuesday September 10 – The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema – 9:00 AM

[star v=4]

Anthony Marcusa

A pop-culture consumer, Anthony seeks out what is important in entertainment and mocks what is not. Inspired by history, Anthony writes with the hope that someone, somewhere, might be affected.