Review: Untold Chaos (2020)

Courtesy of Sheffield Doc|Fest

Giovani Buccomino’s Untold Chaos (Libya, Italy, UK/2020) wich has just world-premiered at Sheffield Doc|Fest, makes it clear from its start that there is no happy ending. In the opening credits, a dictionary definition of chaos is presented. One of the synonyms is formless, which is an apt way to describe the nearly forty-minute runtime attempting to piece some sense of Libya, since president Ghaddafi was killed and left a vacuum that continues to be fought for to date. A theme of frenzy runs through the documentary. Whether it is on the streets where we first meet the citizens of Libya celebrating at the fall of Ghaddafi, or years later when they passionately bemoan the absence of a written constitution and a political elite that continues to embody corruption and ineffectiveness.

While the documentary tries its best to give everyone a voice, it also loses some of its strength specifically because it tries to hear too many perspectives. Shot across many cities, towns and settlements across the country, we hear from the Amazigh trying to regain their constitutional right to have their language and identity acknowledged, to the people of Twergha who had decent lives under Ghaddafi’s rule and now curse the revolution as it has brought them nothing but homelessness and mass deaths. There is a woman moaning the lack of fuel as she drives past the third empty station and there are customer service representatives trying to provide information to citizens on the pending vote of the committee which will be tasked to write the new Libyan constitution. The result is a messy melting pot of too many narratives, agendas and identities.

The documentary takes occasional pauses to give the viewer some sense of direction. Texts are displayed in an attempt to achieve grounding and resituate the viewer into the documentary’s purpose. Unfortunately, the resulting visuals don’t correspond with the texts. There are accusations of proxy wars with countries in the Global West and Middle East fueling armed bandits, but the closest the story gets to armed bandits are the Amazigh people preparing to shit down a refiners that will cost the country billions, because their appeal to the government to legitimize their identity has once again been postponed. It is never found out whether the attempt was successful.

Ultimately, Untold Chaos plays out like a documentary made by a well-meaning, but inexperienced storyteller. There are too many narrators, the reliability is compromised, there is no coherent central theme and the subplots are too underdeveloped. A pity because the story of Libya in the aftermath of a makes for an even more compelling story than the frenzy of a revolution.

Original Title: Untold Chaos
Country: Lybia, Italy, UK
Year: 2020
Runtime: 39 min.
Language: Arabic, Tabu, Tamazight
Producers: Naziha Arebi, Giovanni Buccomino
Written/ Directed by: Giovanni Buccomino