As If We Were Catching a Cobra feels less like a finished film and more like a series of video-recorded musings. Having started off life as a project about political cartoonists and freedom of expression in the Arab world—specifically in Syria and Egypt—it was “invaded” by the revolutions in those countries, in a way that is politically, rather than cinematically, interesting.
The trauma of the massive tragedy that is happening now in Syria has seized control here. When the brain goes into emergency mode, I suppose, every single thing seems important, everything is recorded. The casual viewer, though, may not feel patient with a film that takes two full hours to tell a story that in a more conventional framing might well be half that length (Facebook, I’m pretty sure, gets more screen time here than in The Social Network).
As part of the shifting of the film into covering the effects of the revolution, increased time is given to novelist and essayist Samar Yazbek. She has some interesting things to say but also makes the film seem ever more removed from the art of the cartoonists as well as the revolution itself. How to present a story of art and expression, brutality and violence, without getting more of it on screen? The effort is worthy but the result doesn’t quite add up. Once gets the feeling that there is a more focused yet rounded film waiting to be constructed from this material once enough time has elapsed.