Monday, January 18, 2021

The Dissident humanizes the victim of a political assassination

The Dissident humanizes the victim of a political assassination

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Director Bryan Fogel, whose 2017 film Icarus (about Russia’s role in illegal sports doping) won an Oscar for best documentary, chooses not to focus too heavily on the president’s response. In fact, while he lays out the facts of the murder in fascinating and grim detail, his film’s greatest achievement is to humanize the victim.

Khashoggi was by all accounts a patriot and a deeply lonely man, whose criticism of the Saudi government led to him entering self-imposed exile in 2017. He started writing for the Washington Post in September of that year, and the following May met Hatice Cengiz, his future fiancée, at a conference in Istanbul.

The film interviews other Saudi activists living in exile in Oslo and elsewhere. In one eerie scene, Montreal resident Omar Abdulaziz Alzaharani describes how Saudi officials tried to convince him to return to his homeland, or at least to its embassy in Canada to renew some documents. He refused, and later learned that his brother and many friends had been arrested back home.

Khashoggi had friends in the Saudi expat community, and seemed to enjoy engaging with a younger generation of social-media-savvy critics. One interview subject notes that, with its high degree of uptake in Saudi Arabia, “Twitter became the parliament of the Arabs.” I concluded this documentary angry at the notion of political assassination, but also saddened by the loss of a gentle soul in the world.

The Dissident is available Jan. 8 on demand.

3.5 stars out of 5

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