Cannes smells revolution on Arab Spring breeze

By Jill Lawless, AP

CANNES, France — The ripples of the Arab Spring are being felt in summery Cannes, where films from Egypt and Syria, as well as a passionate documentary about the overthrow of Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, are being screened alongside the latest features from the world’s heavyweight directors.

On Friday the festival lineup included “The Oath of Tobruk,” a highly personal insiders’ account of the uprising by writer and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who was accompanied to a photo call by masked Libyan fighters.

In the film, made with photographer Marc Roussel, Levy gives a robust defense of Western military intervention in Libya — and calls for the world to do the same in Syria, where the regime of President Bashar Assad has been fighting an uprising for more than a year. Levy — often known simply as BHL — is a leading public intellectual in France, where he is known for his impassioned political interventions, dapper dress and mane of salt-and-pepper hair.

The movie is revealing about the background to the Libyan conflict, as Levy’s bulging contacts book delivers interviews with Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, as well as with members of Libya’s new political and military leadership.

Levy was pivotal in persuading Sarkozy, then France’s president, to back air strikes to aid the Libyan rebels, a decision taken up by Cameron, the British leader, and later by President Barack Obama.

Dismissed by critics as an egotist, Levy is not shy about extolling his place in history, explaining in the film’s voiceover his personal desire to overthrow a dictator and right a wrong that has been gnawing at him for 20 years — “the bleeding wound of Bosnia,” where he says intervention could have saved thousands of lives.

“I’ve borne the sorrow and the mourning of Bosnia for 20 years,” Levy told The Associated Press. “And this is what Sarkozy, Cameron and Clinton say (in the film)— we did this because of Bosnia. Nevermore Bosnia. Nevermore Srebrenica.”