Letters from Baghdad
Tilda Swinton voices Middle East power player Gertrude Bell in this punchless epistolary directed by Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum. A sort of female T.E. Lawrence, Bell became fascinated by Arabia in the years leading up to World War I, traveling deep into the uncharted desert and compiling information about tribal relations that would eventually prove vital to the British military. After the war ended and the Ottoman Empire tumbled, Bell’s unquestionable expertise and outgoing nature allowed her to play a prominent role in redrawing the map of the Middle East, making decisions that still reverberate around the region. The bare facts of Bell’s life are interesting enough, but Letters from Baghdad dispenses them in the most uninteresting way imaginable—by having Swinton read Bell’s letters over stock footage and sound effects, while actors play figures from her life in fake talking head interviews. This movie never had a chance. D.B.