Love Letters from Somalia

Part of the U Film Society’s “War” series of films, Love Letters From Somalia is a well-intended documentary that attempts to explore and lay bare the deplorable conditions of the titular country, circa 1981. Unfortunately, while doing so director (and narrator of the film) Frederic Mitterand also decides to explore (ad nauseum) his recent spurning by a lover, and to somehow liken the two disparate situations.

What results is a painfully self-indulgent and solipsistic film, which actually serves to trivialize the very real and grave problems that Somalia faces. When Mitterand soliloquizes as a sort of summary of the film that, “I loved you so much, Somalia, because our ordeals were alike,” I had to refrain myself from hurtling something at the screen. The fundamental perversity of that statement is the same as that of the film itself: unrequited love is absolutely nothing like dying of starvation or pestilence.

Which isn’t to say that the film is completely without merit. The rarity of such footage from inside Somalia is exciting in itself, and the fact that the film serves to humanize the same people who were recently depicted as savages in Blackhawk Down is refreshing.

However, while documentary footage of this kind is rare, the problem is that it’s not terribly moving. Much of the film is filled with unremarkable, touristy shots of Somalian architecture set to Mitterand’s incessant yammering about his jilting.

Even the footage that is inherently moving, such as that of starving children, lacks the poignancy of similar footage in Luis Bunuel 1932 documentary masterpiece Land Without Bread. It’s hard to take the situation seriously when the director himself flippantly cuts from such a scene to one in which he elegizes his former lover in bed.

I get the point, Frederic: Misery is universal and everyone suffers in their own idiosyncratic way, but getting kicked to the curb by your sweetheart does not begin to compare with the horrors that these Somalian people have known.


– Christopher Yocum


Love Letters from Somalia screens at the Bell Auditorium on February 23 & 24 at 5:15