Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 9, 2015

Liberia, liberated. This is obviously a very worthy subject, a comparative historical obscurity that deserves to be exposed and celebrated. Beyond the real-life/feel-good components, there are numerous other, socio-political points of interest. The rapprochement between the Christian and the Muslim women is really important, and quite touching. It certainly runs counter to pattern or at least expectation. Again, it’s men and women, isn’t it, whether in war, competition/aggression, or the plain pursuit of one’s own interests.

At one point this actually becomes a spontaneous production of Lysistrata. Some of these ladies take Aristophanes’ boldly comic high concept and show how profoundly real-life it actually is. Yes, in many circumstances this is the best way in which women, too, can exercise unrighteous dominion. But sometimes you have to use, or muzzle, the weapons that are at hand. This domestic strike demonstrates how micro and macro relate, how personal the political can be, or how political the personal, and how rich both the symbolism and actuality of marital sexuality really are. Finally we see that though the international community intervenes, this is also substantially a record of a local initiative, of a grass-roots or even anarchic uprising. They got together and solved their terrible problem. It’s enough to give comfort and justification to the most staunch isolationist.

But Pray the Devil Back to Hell is so poorly made! That wouldn’t matter except that it is also so calculatedly and panderingly made. I’m not sure if it’s manipulation or simple innocence, but any opportunity to be overemphatic or obvious, to lead the witness or pound the sermon is taken. You come to resent it. Even more troubling, and fascinating, is the sense that these qualities are also present in the ladies’ whole campaign, and their whole campaign strategy. It would seem that, in this case at least, these superb ends would completely justify such means. Probably so. But there’s still something of Zlata’s Diary (Malala Yousafzai?!) here. It’s not at all that these ladies are exploiting this terrible situation for their own ends. But they’re not Anne Frank, either, or Nelson Mandela, or Shirin Ebadi.

Is that fair? Almost certainly not. You shouldn’t expect poor, brutalized people to present like Renée Falconetti, or talk like Shakespeare’s Portia.

These ladies sure don’t!