Ahorn | Thursday February 22nd, 2018
PROFILE – Timur Bekmambetov’s thriller is based on the book “In the Skin of a Jihadist” by Anna Erelle. Andrew Horn, filmmaker and critic, took a look at the film for us at the Berlinale Panorama:
There are times when I think that one of the worst things that ever happened to me was getting flat rate Internet. Being online is the ultimate distraction, checking out email and Facebook, watching Youtube videos and just mindless, hypnotic googling around. Heaven help you if you’re trying to work. It’s also, as we know, a hotbed of horrible ideas and social outrage, and a seductive way to spread them.
Timur Bekmambetov’s “Profile” brings all these elements together in a political thriller about a young UK Journalist named Amy who is doing a freelance assignment for a web based magazine on ISIS recruitment of white women. Her strategy is to impersonate an impressionable 20 year old girl and use herself as bait to trap a recruiter. She opens up a fake Facebook account, establishes a fake identity, and proceeds to start indiscriminately friending anyone she finds with a Muslim name and, as soon as she receives a confirmation, she starts sharing ISIS videos.
Surprisingly quickly, she receives a message from a guy in Syria, whose video she shared, asking her to share another – a scene of two masked men executing a kneeling hooded prisoner. Amy watches but at the moment when they bring the knife down, she is sickened and has to turn it off. In other words, bingo!
A few more back and forth chat messages later, her correspondent, a young British born Muslim and ISIS solider named Belil, wants to skype with her. She has to rush to find a teen Muslim convert story on YouTube that she can use as inspiration and now she’s googling videos of makeup tips to make yourself look younger and instructions on how to tie a hijab. Her editor connects her with their IT guy to help her record everything and, after an initial freakout when she finds out he’s from a Muslim background, Amy is able to get real time advice from him at certain key points in the story.
Her first skype session with Belil is, as expected, a bit scary. He is calling from a car in the middle of a war zone and brags about his fighting experiences while we see some of the horrible world he lives in. But as the calls increase, he reveals more about himself and becomes increasingly human. He shows her videos of American drones killing children and talks about his former life in the UK full of daily humiliations and discrimination. He has finally found a home and acceptance in the movement and, he assures her he is fighting for peace. And when Amy goes back to re-watch his beheading video, it turns out it was all a joke.
As things develop, Belil’s attentions to her become a strange alternate mirror of her humdrum life in London – the money worries, the job pressures from her exploitation-minded editor, and her priggish yuppie nerd boyfriend who sends her videos of affordable apartments with spreadsheets budgeting their future finances for their planned moving in together. Belil on the other hand is a hot, handsome, athletic, leader of 100 men who carries a machine gun, and showers her with affection and promises of an easy life, including a skype tour of the big luxurious house that he’s got for her if only she would marry him.
As she gets sucked deeper into her story, her life at home starts to fall apart. She is losing her safe but boring boyfriend and as her sympathies begin to change, her editor threatens to drop her story, and her. Belil and the life he promises is starting to look really good. At which point of course it turns into the horror story we all expected and hoped it would be. But with a few nice twists, I should add.
At this point I should mention that the whole movie takes place on Amy’s computer desktop, with all the characters appearing in either Facetime or Skype windows with parallel commentary flying around as chat messages. In fact there are all sorts of dialogues flying around as Amy is constantly being interrupted or distracted by her eager boyfriend, an airhead girlfriend, her pushy and always wired editor, and the IT guy who is either prompting her or helping her set up additional proof of her “identity”. And also various Facebook messages, bank notices and the occasional crash. And, very importantly, the videos that Amy is watching or sending.
If this was all going with me at home, I’d be quickly going out of my mind, but as a stylistic element in the movie, along with an artificial compression of time, and calls breaking up or getting dropped at key moments, it’s very effective in creating a sense of action, suspense and tension. Oh sure there are a number of plot holes, overly convenient coincidences and a cheap exploitive twist or two, but to its credit, the movie moves at such a speed that by the time you start questioning, five more video screens have popped up and been x-ed out. And by the time it’s over and you’re ready to actually think about things, you’re already out in the street having gone through a roller coast ride, and at that point who cares?