The Mauritanian – the Berlinale opener that you have to see

The Mauritanian – the Berlinale opener that you have to see

Mauritanian citizen Mohamedou Ould Slahi is captured by the US Government in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Suspected of having been involved in aiding or even recruiting the hijackers who steered the planes into the World Trade Center, he spends years at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp without being charged or put on trial. Braving contempt and insult, defence attorney Nancy Hollander takes up Slahi’s case and prepares to face the prosecutor dispatched by the military. Acting giants Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch lend their charisma to these representatives of justice who, although on opposite sides, ultimately unite in valuing moral decency. With his uncanny ability to hide his characters’ intentions, Tahar Rahim is perfectly cast to portray a man who may as easily be unfairly accused as he may be faking innocence. Slahi had confessed to the crimes of which he was accused. But he did so under torture.

The film from Kevin Macdonald is based on the 2015 best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary” which Slahi wrote while in captivity. It’s 2021 when the film finally premiere in Berlinale, after it was supposed to as an opening film back in February. Multiple presidents of the USA promised the closure of the illegal Guantánamo prison, which stays still even after the publicity that the film and Mohamedou’s appearances in the media gave to the methods of “interrogation” there. The film presents proof of what is happening in Guantánamo for almost two decades now, proof of war crimes for high ranking US officers that go probably up to George Bush. That said, no matter the execution, this film is really important and does a nice job presenting the events to a wider view.

The casting of the film is ideal: not only Rahim does an amazing job as Mohamedou, but both Foster and the ‘American accent’ Cumberbatch give inspired performances, while Woodley’s character seems a little fake, like lots of other smaller parts were written into this one, in order to fit various purposes with mostly staged dialog. But even that, I think is intended, in order to present to the average viewer the complicated and difficult to understand legal procedures, but also to stress the importance not only justice, but the rule of law as the backbone of a democratic state. Also, having seen a couple of interviews of the real Mohamedou, instead of the complex law storyline, the film should have probably focused a little bit more on his character, that feels that have to say a little more. The man is such a delight, that manages somehow to light up the story, even if he is the person that went through the hell of waterboarding and other physical and mental torture, while anyone else would be totally broken for life.

Nevertheless, even with its flaws the film is a must-see for any cinephile but also everyone that is remotely interested in human rights and justice. The Mauritanians is already on the cinemas and streaming.


Grade 3.5/5

Writter/Director Kevin Macdonald
with Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch
Country: United Kingdom Year: 2021
Runtime: 130 minutes

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