Title: Man at War
Director: Jacek Blawut
A hopelessly myopic look at videogamers obsessed with a very specific computer flight simulator, documentary “Man at War” locks its sights on a motley international community of IL-2 Sturmovik aficionados, who engage in historically accurate aerial battles in an effort to relive World War II and in some cases try to even rewrite its history. Lacking any sort of compelling entrance point into this insular world, or even much in the way of an examination of its subjects’ individual and collective tetherings to the world around them, this movies fumbles away any potentially interesting sub-cultural curiosity or cachet it might on the surface possess.
Directed by Jacek Blawut, the film presents players from different walks of life and several countries, including the United States, Russia, Germany and Poland. On a nominal level, “Man at War” delves into their different reasons for attraction to the game. Some feel like they’re honoring familial veterans, others have a more broadly nationalist attachment (“It’s about respecting history, and the nation”). After ping-ponging back and forth a bit, the movie then alights on a virtual battle in which simultaneous footage of the player combatants is edited together, with various mission successes and failures giving rise to heated emotions.
Some of the details are amusing — there’s a deacon who flies with Clark Gable’s face on his character’s avatar — but Blawut’s editorial instincts are woefully undeveloped. There is no set-up or sense of the actual game, and how its missions and interactions are governed (when it’s revealed that you can actually land, then run and rescue downed pilots, it comes as a surprise), nor the financial costs involved — which would have to vary across the settings considering the different technology and equipment viewers see being used by different players. “Man at War” assumes a general knowledge and deep interest in its subject matter, but even then doesn’t deliver much.
Mostly there’s just a lack of fun, or even cathartic charge, to “Man at War.” A few shared tidbits hint at more deeply sketched and conflicted characters (“After a thousand combats, mostly victorious, the thrill is not the same as in the beginning,” says one player, while another comes to tears pondering his grandfather’s complicity in some of the war crimes of World War II), but Blawut is an impassive point-and-shoot chronicler, and nothing more. He seems afraid to follow his subjects away from their consoles, and try to plug into their feelings more deeply.
Written by: Brent Simon