Resilient and brave

Bernard-Henri Lévy on Ukraine's defenders and Glory To The Heroes

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Bernard-Henri Lévy on Glory To The Heroes and Slava Ukraini composer Slava Vakarchuk: “He’s not only the Ukrainian Bono or the Ukrainian Sting - he’s of course that - but he is also one of the embodiments of the soul of Ukraine.”
Bernard-Henri Lévy on Glory To The Heroes and Slava Ukraini composer Slava Vakarchuk: “He’s not only the Ukrainian Bono or the Ukrainian Sting - he’s of course that - but he is also one of the embodiments of the soul of Ukraine.”

From not in Paris, Bernard-Henri Lévy joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Glory To The Heroes (L'Ukraine Au Cœur), as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg held a press conference in Brussels, briefing the media on the Foreign Ministers meeting, which started with announcing their continued support for Ukraine.

Bernard-Henri Lévy with Anne-Katrin Titze on the summer of 2023 filmic diary Glory To The Heroes: “The point of view of a writer and a philosopher who traveled to the frontline.”
Bernard-Henri Lévy with Anne-Katrin Titze on the summer of 2023 filmic diary Glory To The Heroes: “The point of view of a writer and a philosopher who traveled to the frontline.”

“In homage to a lost generation of Ukrainians who died so that Ukraine will live” reads the dedication in Bernard-Henri Lévy’s third volume, Glory To The Heroes, again co-directed with Marc Roussel, produced by Emily Hamilton, and with Gilles Hertzog as special advisor. Following The Will To See (Une Autre Idée Du Monde) and Slava Ukraini, this documentary also chronicles the war in the shape of a filmic diary. The score at the start by Slava Vakarchuk is reminiscent of a whistling Western tune, simultaneously hopeful, melancholic, and foreboding.

The documentary celebrates the striking resilience and reunites the film crew with a number of the brave men and women they had met six months earlier. The effect on viewers is startling because, unlike a TV series on summer break, what is eerily familiar speaks of war and terror and the Real. When the team again meets the same soldiers under the Antonivsky Bridge, there is a sense of relief, mixed with dread at what is still to come. Going back shows that their efforts in defending Europe are not forgotten by others beyond Ukraine, which is precisely the danger in a world with ever-faster news cycles spinning out of control.

L'Ukraine au cœur drives the message home about the long-lasting damage done to all, including the youngest, who had forgotten what the sky looked like or how to play. The most innocent of victims of war. Near the end, Lévy once more evokes the justifiable fear of a second Munich: “It is for us that the bell will toll should Ukraine fall. Russia must be defeated - no compromise, no delay.”

Anne-Katrin Titze: Hello, Bernard, how are you?

Bernard-Henri Lévy: How are you? Great to meet you again!

AKT: Yes, it’s always great to talk to you! I just wish it were for a slightly different reason than the ongoing war. Glory To The Heroes - I met some of them here at the United Nations when you presented your previous film. Glory To The Heroes is the English title. The French title, L'Ukraine au cœur, places Ukraine into your heart.

Bernard-Henri Lévy on the teenagers held captive for 27 days in a basement in Yahidne: “They are 17 and they are so brave.”
Bernard-Henri Lévy on the teenagers held captive for 27 days in a basement in Yahidne: “They are 17 and they are so brave.”

BHL: In the French title, Ukraine is in my heart, not only in my brain, not only in my reflections, but in my heart. Why did we change the title in English? I don’t know, I would have preferred even in French the English title, which in Ukrainian is “Heroiam slava!” As you probably know, “Slava Ukraini” and “Heroiam slava” are the two faces of the same coin.

When people meet in Ukraine, when they say, Hello, or, How are you? one says, “Slava Ukraini,” and the other one says, “Heroiam slava!” The two sentences go literally together. I like the idea of those two films embracing the two faces of the Ukrainian project, the Ukrainian fight, and the Ukrainian spirit. So the two titles make a sort of couple; they are twins.

AKT: The heroic sense, I noticed, is in the choice of music also in this film. It’s almost Western music, whistling sounds that celebrate the heroes as well.

BHL: It’s a celebration with a part of melancholy probably. In my opinion, the celebration is not enough completed, not enough implemented in the West. We don’t realise how much the Ukrainians deserve to be celebrated, to which extent they are heroes. So there is maybe what you are saying, but in the whistling of Slava Vakarchuk, there is a part of melancholy also.

20-year-old wounded soldier Ruslana with Bernard-Henri Lévy in Kyiv
20-year-old wounded soldier Ruslana with Bernard-Henri Lévy in Kyiv

And it is Slava Vakarchuk, that music, as for the first two films. In the first one, Why Ukraine?, he gave a song for the final part of the film, the end. Slava Ukraini, he did the whole original music. And the same this time. And for me, Slava Vakarchuk, he’s not only the Ukrainian Bono or the Ukrainian Sting - he’s of course that - but he is also one of the embodiments of the soul of Ukraine. If Ukraine had a soul, a spirit, it could be Slava.

AKT: Once again, you show images in this film that have not been seen and you make a connection to the past. The “Flooded Earth Strategy,” these horrific pictures when the dam was blown up by Russia. Of course, calling it “Flooded Earth Strategy” makes you think of it as the latest update of the notorious “Scorched Earth” of history.

BHL: Yes, the “Scorched Earth Strategy” was a decision by Adolf Hitler, a very decisive act. And the same, Putin decided to use the strategy as a political act, a military act. All the images of this film, you know a little my work, 100% of the images are original. There is not one image taken from television or elsewhere, every single image of this film has been shot by myself and my friend and co-director, Marc Roussel. It is a principle of this film, moral principle and artistic principle for every single image: We are here, we are here to screen it, we made it by our direction.

AKT: Where you put the camera, the choices what to show are all yours.

BHL: Absolutely. The point of view is mine and is very simple, by the way. The point of view of a writer and a philosopher who traveled to the frontline. It’s at the same time a little hard, but very simple. It’s just that, a diary, it’s my diary during the summer of 2023.

AKT: We also get the sense of time passing in the chapter that begins with Bucha. Bucha, the name that has become synonymous with the massacre that happened there has returned to almost normal, you state. Then we meet three girls and you walk with them into the basement and they show you where they were held captive and what they went through. It is a progression and we see where the war is now. It’s very impressive.

Bernard-Henri Lévy playing with the children during an air-raid
Bernard-Henri Lévy playing with the children during an air-raid

BHL: Yeah, in Bucha, resilience, rebuilding of life. The miracle of life that revives and prevails against death - this is Bucha. And in the village where I go after, also resilience, also life prevailing through the voice and the face of these three young ladies, teenagers who went through hell, and who take me to the hell with them. They escort me to the hell. You know, Dante.

AKT: Yes, it feels that way when you descend the stairs.

BHL: To the hell they went through. But it is hell itself. This cave where all the inhabitants of the village were walled in, were enclosed, where they died, where they suffered from hunger, suffocation and so on. They take me there. They are 17 and they are so brave. So resilient and so brave. When I say, Glory to the Heroes, I not only think of big men and valiant soldiers, I think also of these three teenagers.

AKT: And the children, who had forgotten the colour of the sky. Who forgot how to play and have to re-learn what playing means. It’s terrible to know that it’s not just in Ukraine where children have to re-learn how to play and attempt to get their childhood back. I read your article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung in October where you describe traveling to the south of Israel and spoke with, again the word, “heroic civilians” and “thoughtful soldiers.” The horrors of war are bubbling up everywhere.

BHL: Yes, and for me, the two, by the way, are absolutely connected. It is two frontlines, Israel and Ukraine, it’s two frontlines, two different barricades of the same war.

International volunteer soldiers in Kharkiv
International volunteer soldiers in Kharkiv

AKT: Can you say some more about that?

BHL: In the two cases, in the two situations, it is a democratic people targeted because it is democratic. And targeted by autocratic, fanatic armies, which are themselves linked, connected in a sort of network. You have Hamas, you have Hezbollah, you have Iran, you have Russia - all that makes a sort of network. In my Marxist-Leninist youth, when I was a young man, we called that an Internationale. There was the First Internationale, the Second Internationale, the Third, Lenin, blah-blah.

There was a song, the Internationale will be the human race, you know all that. We have here a sort of Fifth Internationale, whose members are Russia, China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Turkey, and Hamas. So the connection is, you can take the situation from every point of view, by every aspect there is a strong connection. And I believe, by the way, that if the West had helped Ukraine enough, if we had helped Ukraine to win the war, probably the attack on Israel would not have happened. It is because the forces behind Hamas feel a weakness in the West, that they push their advantage, that they open a new front. A new frontline.

Dnipro Jewish community with Bernard-Henri Lévy
Dnipro Jewish community with Bernard-Henri Lévy

AKT: Thank you for traveling there and telling us from near the frontlines! You spoke in one of your earlier films about how most of us know the trenches from movies and you are taking us to a real one. Does it feel differently now being in the trenches in Ukraine again?

BHL: No, the same. The only difference, as you rightly pointed out before, sometimes I meet the same people, the same women and men. The difference is also that sometimes I don’t find them because they are dead and I miss them. But at the end of the day, these trenches, these Ukrainian frontlines from one film to the other, to the third, I happen to know them not too badly. I am probably one of the Westerners, I’m not alone, we are a bunch, but one of them who know not so badly Ukraine. Ukraine is familiar to me now.

AKT: They are in a winter storm right now, I read. I guess you are not in Paris, again.

BHL: No, I’m not in Paris.

AKT: And I will see you in-person at the UN next week!

BHL: You will be there again, I hope so! Happy to shake hands again, my dear Anne-Katrin.

Bernard-Henri Lévy in Chasiv Yar with Colonel Volochine
Bernard-Henri Lévy in Chasiv Yar with Colonel Volochine

AKT: Looking forward!

BHL: Looking forward!

Glory To The Heroes is screening tonight, December 6 at the United Nations followed by a Q&A with Bernard-Henri Lévy.

Glory to the Heroes opens at the Quad Cinema in New York on Friday, December 8.

Coming up - Bernard-Henri Lévy on the past informing the present and not dropping the case for Ukraine by going back to show in Glory To The Heroes the reality of war.

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