Wednesday, November 18, 2020

No Man’s Land, on Hulu

This is a good series, but we would have survived without it. Unfortunately, in our haste to withdraw from Iraq, we created a vacuum ISIS/Daesh was delighted to fill. From there, they advanced into Syria. However, the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (the YPJ, previously documented by Bernard-Henri Levy) shocked Daesh and the world with their tenacious resistance. They are particularly feared by Daesh, because death at the hands of a woman does not entail martyr status—hence no paradise and no virgins. Average Frenchman Antoine Habert suspects his estranged sister Anna has joined the YPJ, so he ill-advisedly travels to Syria to find her in co-creator-writers Amit Cohen, Ron Lesham, Eitan Mansuri & Maria Feldman’s 8-episode No Man’s Land, which premieres today on Hulu.

Habert kept trying to reach out to his sister after she fell out with the family, until she was killed in a random terrorist attack in Cairo. He always had his suspicions about the official story, but Habert still went on with his life. Then he happened to see some footage of YPJ soldiers in Syria. Something about the body language of a western volunteer reminded him of his sister, even though her face was not visible. He becomes so obsessed, he crosses over the Turkish border into Syria, making him a target for Daesh and opportunists who would sell him out.

Meanwhile, three British Daesh recruits, Nasser Al-Shammri, Iyad Bel Tagi, and convert Paul Wilkins are steadily building their reputations within the terror group’s ranks. The latter two are blind believers, but Al-Shammri is more skeptical of their brutal excesses. Yet, as British military veteran, his skills are more valuable to the organization. Further complicating the unstable mix, “Stanley,” a suavely British secret agent with clandestine ties to several players, is also operating in the region.

The deeper Al-Shammri penetrates into the heart of Daesh’s so-called caliphate, the scarier it looks. Cohen and company do not sugarcoat the horrific implications ISIS-occupied territory.
No Man’s depiction of Islamist terror is not as viscerally intense as Sissako’s Timbuktu, but the series is intended as an entertaining thriller (and it is rather grabby).

Frankly, Felix Moati’s Habert is a bit of a drip, but all the characters surrounding him are quite distinctive and intriguing. As Anna Habert, Melanie Thierry constantly surprises, in a tough, forceful way, during her flashback scenes. James Purefoy is devilishly entertaining playing the morally slippery Stanley. Perhaps most importantly, Souheila Yacoub puts a compelling human face on the YPJ, as the sensitive but resolute Sarya Dogan, Brother Antoine’s eventual guardian-minder-and-potential love interest. Likewise, James Krishna Floyd broods hard and conveys massive internal turmoil as the bitterly conflicted Al-Shammri.

Cohen, Lesham et al leave us primed for what could be an even more dramatic second season, so hopefully they will have the opportunity to follow-through on it. So far, they have produced gritty boots-on-the-ground thriller that portrays Daesh and its crimes in realistic, unvarnished terms. Highly recommended,
No Man’s Land starts streaming today (11/18) on Hulu.