French philosopher and filmmaker Bernard Henri-Lévy’s new documentary, “Glory to the Heroes,” is a raw collection of the battles and fears on the front lines of the Ukraine-Russia War in the summer of 2023.
The official summary of the film says that it’s about Lévy’s “fight against fatigued public opinion, the cynicism of chancelleries and, perhaps now more than ever, the weight of silence fallen upon Ukraine.” But it’s more than that. It’s a face-to-face ride-along with Ukrainian soldiers.
Every scene has firsthand accounts from those hurt most by the war: A Russian prisoner-of-war who was drafted out of prison into uniform and then abruptly sold to mercenaries to fight Ukrainians; a Rabbi shares stories about Ukraine’s antisemitic past; a female Ukrainian soldier talks about being taken prisoner and tortured by the Russians, and heartbreaking scenes of injured children rehabilitating in Mariupol. There are moments where Lévy and the Ukrainian troops he’s documenting are mere meters away from being hit by artillery. Lévy and co-director Marc Roussel capture views of front lines from drones, to murky underground bunkers, to several hundred meters atop a wind turbine. It’s hard not to feel the fear and determination shared by those on camera in this 87-minute documentary.
Still, Lévy had a hard time recalling being frightened at any moment of peril.
“A big part of the film is shot around the city of Bakhmut — one of the hottest places on the frontline, so when I was there, there were at least two moments when the missiles were not very far,” Lévy told the Journal. “Of course, it’s scary, it is frightening, but generally in this circumstance, you are afraid after, not during, when a shell or a missile falls not too far.”
Lévy told the Journal that “Glory to the Heroes” was “practically edited on the front lines.” He had a team of editors in Paris but gave them his indications in real time. “It is really the war as it is,” Lévy said. It is a follow-up to Lévy’s documentary “Slava Ukraini” (“Glory to Ukraine”), released in May 2023, which chronicled the early days of the war — February and March of 2022. Both documentaries were produced by Cohen Media Group.
Lévy’s latest documentary comes after a long career covering war as it is and the philosophy of those who perpetrate it.
Lévy’s latest documentary comes after a long career covering war as it is and the philosophy of those who perpetrate it. He has written more than 40 books, including “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” and “The Genius of Judaism.” “Glory to the Heroes” is his eighth film.
The faces of war is a topic he has examined for over a half-century. He recalled his first experiences on the front lines of a war and how it’s stayed with him for all these years. “My first experience is 52 years ago, the liberation war of Eastern Pakistan, which liberated itself and called itself Bangladesh,” Lévy said. “I was there, this was my first physical commitment in 1971. From November to Christmas, 1971, I was reporting for a book, which was my first book. So my first experience of a war, of corpses, of misery, of rape, raping, violating women as a tool, a weapon of war … I was 20something, 22, and I saw images on French TV. I felt helpless, hopeless, despaired, full of sorrow for what was happening. The first genocide after the Second World War. And I decided to go, to go maybe to act and at least to show and at least to narrate, to tell, which I did in my first book called ‘Les Indes Rouges,’ I was 23 years old when I did that.”
Earlier this year, Lévy was awarded the Los Angeles Press Club Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism. “Bernard-Henri Lévy has been at the forefront of the fight against antisemitism, the struggle of the Kurds for National recognition and, more recently, the fight of Ukraine for survival and independence,” Dr. Judea Pearl said when presenting Lévy with the award in June 2023. And on November 23, 2023, Lévy was honored with the Moral Courage Award by U.N. Watch.
The Journal spoke with Lévy about the experience of filming, his perspectives on the Israel-Hamas War, and his charge to fellow documentarians. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
JEWISH JOURNAL: As a documentarian, do you ever consider the audiences who are told not to believe their eyes and ears by the belligerents waging the wars?
BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY: You have to bypass that. Of course, one of the most horrible trends of our time is denial of reality. You have that in Israel, the sort of denial of the pogrom every day. We see that in France, I suppose in America too. They say ‘it’s fake news, it’s not true.’ That’s what they pretend. They are antisemites, they are enraged, crazy antisemites, but they just deny.
JJ: What do you say to filmmakers and journalists who are considering going out to Ukraine, Israel, other conflict areas in the world?
BHL: If you have a platform, if you have the energy, if you have the access, you should do it. The three things you need: Access, energy, and platform. Access because you have to be able to show things, situations which were not shown before. Energy, because it dries part of you, it dries your energy, it takes sweat from you, really. It’s not an easy task. And you have to have a platform because it takes so many risks, you have to take the risk to release your work on a large scale to a large audience. If you have the combination of those three, don’t think too much — do it.
JJ: What were particular moments of resilience and courage that really stick with you?
BHL: The soldiers who hold the line with very little ammunition, very few deliveries from America and from Europe, and nevertheless, they hold the line. This is very impressive. International volunteers — I met them in the city of Kiev. They are British-Australian volunteers, and again, they are in a base which has been completely destroyed once, which was revealed, and I was impressed by their huge resilience. And the Israeli soldiers. There is an important chapter in the movie where you see young veterans from the IDF, who have volunteered since day one in the Ukrainian forces. They are engaged, committed, and enlisted in the Ukrainian forces.
JJ: What do you want people to remember as they have discourse with each other about war when it comes to these conflicts in Ukraine and Israel?
BHL: It’s even worse than each one going back to each other’s corners. Even worse, the situation is that there are many people in America and in France who say, ‘Okay, Biden is doing that, therefore have to do the opposite.’ This is against any common sense, and it goes against the national interest of the countries of the West. There are some causes, some fights — we are speaking of two of them, Israel and Ukraine — which absolutely should be bipartisan, which should not be engaged and taken hostage in political debate. They’re out of debate. In Ukraine, the national security of America is at stake like in Israel, and it should not be diverted or transformed into a political quarrel.
JJ: Would you do the same type of documentary in Israel during the current war with Hamas?
BHL: I want to show as much as possible what I did in Ukraine. I would dream to be able to do it also in Israel, to show the real image, to show the reality behind the propaganda, like from Russia, from Hamas … I convinced the Ukrainian authorities, the Ukrainian army, the Ukrainian political power to let me show the realities of war. That’s what is needed. When you are in front of barbarism, you have to show it as much as you can.
Lévy will be appearing in-person at a screening of “Glory to the Heroes” in Los Angeles on Sunday, December 10 at the Landmark Theatre Sunset in West Hollywood. For tickets: https://cohenmedia.net/product/glory-to-the-heroes
“Glory to the Heroes” is set for streaming release on January 9, 2024.