‘Be­fore the Flood’

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

The specter of celebrity ac­tivism hangs heav­ily over “Be­fore the Flood,” Fisher Stevens’ doc­u­men­tary trav­el­ogue of Leonardo DiCaprio’s en­deav­ors to com­bat global cli­mate change. Yet at times, that also pro­vides its great­est strength, as the ac­tor uses his clout to co­erce such ma­jor world fig­ures as Barack Obama and Pope Fran­cis into ap­pear­ing on cam­era, and uses his own ad­mit­ted lack of sci­en­tific back­ground to his ad­van­tage, act­ing as a plain­spo­ken ev­ery­man guide to some ex­tremely com­pli­cated con­cepts. Hand­somely shot and en­ter­tain­ingly paced, “Be­fore the Flood” may not tackle too much new ground, but given the sin­cer­ity of its mes­sage, its abil­ity to as­sem­ble such a watch­able and com­pre­hen­sive ac­count gives it an un­de­ni­able ur­gency.

“Be­fore the Flood” be­gins with es­sen­tially two pro­logues. One fea­tures DiCaprio in voiceover talk­ing about his early child­hood, in par­tic­u­lar the fact that he grew up with a print of Hierony­mus Bosch’s “The Gar­den of Earthly De­lights” hang­ing above his bed, which helped in­still an aware­ness of so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion from a young age. The sec­ond fea­tures a pro­ces­sion of con­ser­va­tive talk­ing heads Sean Han­nity, Bill O’Reilly, et al - ridi­cul­ing DiCaprio’s en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist bonafides. It’s an ef­fec­tive dou­ble­bar­reled in­tro­duc­tion, of­fer­ing both an un­usu­ally per­sonal glimpse into the ac­tor’s thought process, and a hint of what he’s up against.

The meat of the film, how­ever, con­cerns DiCaprio’s role as a UN mes­sen­ger of peace, an as­sign­ment for which he trav­els from the oil fields of Al­berta to the smog-choked streets of Shang­hai, not to men­tion In­dia, Poly­ne­sia, Green­land, the Vat­i­can, and the White House to in­ter­view var­i­ous ex­perts about the nowunequiv­o­cal ev­i­dence that the earth’s chang­ing cli­mate will have - and in­deed, is al­ready start­ing to have - cat­a­strophic con­se­quences on hu­man life. (He also vis­its with Ale­jan­dro Inar­ritu on the set of “The Revenant,” and those brief scenes, along with DiCaprio’s film-end­ing speech to the General As­sem­bly, oc­ca­sion­ally make the film re­sem­ble an ex­ten­sion of his 2015 Os­car cam­paign.)

On the whole, how­ever, DiCaprio is a highly ef­fec­tive au­di­ence sur­ro­gate, ask­ing sci­en­tists and lead­ers the sorts of to-the-point ques­tions that many view­ers might well have for them­selves. He’s not afraid to some­times ap­pear un­in­formed, nor to ac­knowl­edge that his own car­bon foot­print is cer­tainly larger than most. In fact, per­haps the film’s most in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lat­ing mo­ment comes dur­ing a visit to In­dia, when he’s chal­lenged on his own Amer­ica-cen­tric bi­ases by ac­tivist Sunita Narain, who poses a dif­fi­cult ques­tion: How can a na­tion like the US ask a na­tion like In­dia to risk its own, more ten­u­ous, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment with en­vi­ron­men­tal mea­sures that the US it­self has been he­si­tant to adopt?

But where the film suc­ceeds the most is by fo­cus­ing on the ground-level vic­tims of cli­mate change, whether the po­lar bears of the Arc­tic, or the in­hab­i­tants of is­land na­tions like Kiri­bati, whose for­mer pres­i­dent Anote Tong uses phrases like “re­lo­ca­tion with dig­nity” when plan­ning for the uneasy fu­ture of his own home­land. Stevens keeps the film mov­ing swiftly, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween im­ages of in­spir­ing beauty and hor­ri­fy­ing dread, and the mu­sic - from At­ti­cus Ross, Trent Reznor, Mog­wai, and Gus­tavo San­tao­lalla - is a low-key achieve­ment on its own.

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