This hypnotic meditation on modern warfare from Éléonore Weber is an experimental cine-essay that feels closer to a gallery installation than a documentary. Watching it is a bit of a test of concentration: 75 minutes of helicopter airstrike footage from American and French missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clip after clip of pilots following what’s on the ground hundreds of metres below. Who is that in their crosshairs: a Taliban fighter holding a Kalashnikov or a farmer with a rake? Farmers know that they get mistaken for fighters, so run and hide their tools when they hear helicopters. Which of course makes them look suspicious.
In the cockpit, we hear American voices: “Request permission to engage.” “We got a guy with an RPG.” This is the notorious video WikiLeaks dubbed Collateral Murder, a US airstrike filmed from an Apache helicopter in 2007. The rocket-propelled grenade launcher turned out to be a camera tripod belonging to a Reuters photographer, who was one of a dozen civilians killed in the attack. It’s impossible to watch and not think of computer games. “Kill! Kill! Kill” we hear in another video – you can almost feel the itch to shoot everything that moves.
Most of the footage here shows night-time missions. Like the pilots, you want to make sense of what’s happening below – but there’s no sound. And seen through a thermal camera, people are just glowing, blurry figures in the dark. Then comes the strike and they drop like sacks on the ground, shapeless. Soon all their human warmth will soon be gone, and they will become invisible to the camera.
This is an interesting film, though it might work better projected on to the white wall of a gallery. And maybe it’s the translation from French, but Weber’s morally weary voiceover (read by actor Nathalie Richard) is a bit clunky in places.
• There Will Be No More Night is available on 25 January on Mubi.