During my conversation with Robert Farley a few weeks ago, I talked about the forthcoming film 5 Days of August/5 Days of War, which purports to tell the story of the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. I assumed that the movie would largely reflect a pro-Georgian view, not least since the Georgian government gave the crew extensive access to government buildings and locations for filming, but from what little I had seen of it I thought it might still be worth watching. It was reportedly going to be an antiwar film, and the director had said that he wanted “to use my experience in action films to tell the story of a complex conflict that is impartial but makes a strong antiwar statement.” That didn’t happen. Apparently, it is even more heavily pro-Georgian than I thought, and of much poorer quality than I supposed. Giorgi Gvakharia wrote this review for Radio Free Europe:
The accents, however, are just the beginning of the film’s shortcomings. I don’t think anyone doubts that “Five Days of August,” as a project, was conceived and commissioned to propagandize, publicize, and show the world how Georgia had been victimized by the Russian Empire. But the film’s plot is so hopelessly crude and the propagandizing is carried out in such a one-dimensional, excessive manner that the end result is a kind of peculiar “anti-propaganda.” [bold mine-DL] Russian soldiers are simply caricatures, portrayed in the same way as Nazis were in bad Soviet movies.
“Five Days of August,” in fact, reduces the entire August 2008 war to a caricature. It is as if the director, as a boy, used to like playing war games with his toy soldiers; now, as an adult, he was given a chance to rekindle his passion with helicopters, tanks, blood-splattered faces, “brave Georgians,” and “evil, ignorant Russians.” There’s also one additional flop. Georgian and Russian characters are played by foreign actors and speak English most of the time. But when they speak in their “native” tongues, awkward hilariousness ensues. The Georgian spoken by actress Emmanuelle Chriqui sounds so ridiculous that, instead of feeling compassion for her character, Georgian-speaking audiences will be able to do little more than laugh.
Judged against what Harlin said he was attempting to do, it sounds as if the film is an unmitigated disaster. Instead of conveying an antiwar message, Harlin will end up delivering a message that validates the position of the government that escalated the conflict with South Ossetia into a full-scale war. Instead of being impartial, it is comically biased and one-sided. Rather than paying attention to the complexities of the conflict, it boils it down to the most simplistic account possible. It’s unfortunate that the most concerted effort to draw attention to the war in Georgia in the last three years has turned out to be nothing more than a clumsy bit of propagandizing. All parties to the conflict would benefit from a more intelligent representation of the conflict, and Americans could stand to learn more about the war and how misguided U.S. policies on Kosovo’s independence and NATO expansion, among other things, contributed to the war. As Thomas de Waal concluded in his chapter on modern Georgia in The Caucasus:
In that sense, the main culpability for the conflict lies, strangely enough, with the one actor that did not fight and that sought to stop the violence: the West. The Western sin was in promising more than it could deliver….Often sympathetic to Georgia for other reasons, Western officials consistently delivered the easy part of the message–they supported Georgia’s territorial integrity; but they did not sufficiently convey the hard part–that recovering the two territories would be a very long haul that required building a new state and rethinking many old attitudes….The default policy of isolating the separatists persisted and only drove them further into the embrace of Russia.
The United States in particular gave many confusing signals. The fact that U.S. troops were there supposedly to train Georgian troops for peacekeeping and antiterrorism functions, not for combat against Abkhaz and South Ossetia, was a distinction lost on many observers, including most Georgians. President Bush consistently praised Saakashvili, yet the commitment was only rhetorical. [p. 222-223]
It is a pity that the latest Western contribution to the conflict in the form of this film is another embarrassing exercise in overwrought support for a Georgian position that has proved to be a catastrophe for Georgia and the surrounding region.