I wasn’t too sure what to feel when walking into Bernard-Henri Lévy’s latest film, Glory to the Heroes. It’s the philosopher’s third installment in a trilogy covering the war in Ukraine, and the first two have been as harrowing as they were essential. Our fiercest defender of the will to bear witness, Lévy spent many months with Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines, showing us the exacting price of freedom, not only Ukraine’s but Europe’s as well. At the screening of his previous film, at the United Nations, Lévy quipped that the next time he made a movie about Ukraine it would end with the nation’s victory and Putin’s trial for crimes against humanity. Both, alas, are still distant dreams.

And yet, Glory to the Heroes is a profoundly hopeful work, an account of ordinary people doing extraordinary things under the most unimaginable circumstances. Two-thirds into the film, for example, we meet Maryna, Daryna, and Anastasiya, three teenage girls from the small village of Yahidne, about 86 miles northeast of Kyiv. Wearing jeans and big smiles, they look like the cheerful adolescents you may find on any American college campus. Confidently, they accompany Lévy to their school building and tell him their story.

On March 3 of last year, the Russians rolled into their village and took all 376 of its people hostage. They ushered them into the schoolhouse, which was converted into the Russian army’s impromptu HQ, and then forced them at gun point down to the basement. Maryna, Daryna, and Anastasiya lived down in that dank, crowded dungeon for 27 days.

“It was stifling,” they tell Lévy on camera. “We were all on top of each other. We didn’t even have room to turn over. You laid down and stayed in the same position, knees bent.” When someone died of heat or exhaustion or malnourishment, which was often, the Russians would carry the body out of the room, but not right away. The stench of death lingered. And yet, telling their story on camera, the three teenagers show no sign of despair. Instead, they demonstrate to Lévy how they pushed some pieces of furniture they had found together to make a more comfortable shared bed for the littlest children, and how they’d give each other courage and a reason to go on during those desperate days of subterranean terror.

It’s impossible, of course, to watch these remarkable young women and not think of the Israelis currently being held under similarly ghastly conditions in the tunnels under Gaza. And though Lévy’s film was shot and edited long before Hamas’ marauders breached the border and unleashed hell, it leaves little room for doubt that Israel’s struggle with the genocidal terror group and Ukraine’s resistance to its despotic neighbor are two fronts in precisely the same war.

You could make this argument by showing that the very same Iranian drones terrorizing Ukrainians at Putin’s behest were also launched just last week against the USS Carney and successfully shot down over the southern Red Sea. You could note that the same alliance—the so-called “axis of resistance,” with Iran and Russia at its heart—arms and trains and accelerates violence everywhere from Bucha to Be’eri. Or you could take the more inspired route and simply listen to Nico.

A young Frenchman, he was about to go off on vacation to Cancun when he turned on the news and saw Ukraine’s President Zelensky call on foreigners to come join the war against Putin’s goons. “I got up and said, ‘OK, then, cheers! This is my last beer! I’m leaving!’” he giddily tells Lévy, his camouflage-colored New York Yankees hat a testament to his DIY ethos. “I didn’t come just for Ukraine. I’m here for France. For Europe. When I left my place, one of my pals said: “Nicolas, this isn’t your war. Who cares about Ukraine?” I’m 33. I want to party. I want to live. But when I hear about the “deportation of children,” the question is not whether it’s five, 50, or 200,000. Even if it’s 10, in 2023, you don’t deport children … That is shit from the past, shit we don’t want to see again.”

Alex and Vitali share similar feelings. Seated on the ground in the woods, surrounded by their Ukrainian brothers in arms, the two, veterans of the Israel Defense Forces, tell Lévy why they decided to trade the leisure of the post-army life for yet another war, this one so far away from home. The battle they’re waging now, they say, feels very familiar to them, another fight for the right to live peacefully, another war with homicidal neighbors bent on invasion and destruction, another stubborn stand by those who have to prove daily that they’re worthy of their homeland. I wasn’t surprised at all to learn, shortly after seeing Glory to the Heroes, that Alex and Vitali had left the fight against Putin to return home, rejoin the IDF, and enter Gaza to seek and destroy Hamas.

But Lévy wants to make sure we see not only the heroes of this war we share, but also the villains. In a moment at once hilarious and heartbreaking, he gives us a series of interviews with captured Russian soldiers. Even though their faces are blurred, it is obvious that these aren’t fearsome adversaries but depraved criminals. Struggling to put together simple sentences, they tell their interrogators of how they were released from prison if they agreed to go fight a war for which they were given neither a reason nor the means to survive. If they weren’t the perpetrators of such cruelties, we’d feel sorry for them. By the time the film’s over, though, these Russian rogues fade from memory, their cravenness making the grit of their Ukrainian adversaries all the more tangible.

Not that Glory to the Heroes is a rosy account of a war humming smoothly toward an inevitable victory. Far from it. In scene after scene, Lévy shows the difficulty of fighting without enough arms, enough soldiers, or enough support. He takes us to the ravaged streets of cities lost and won and lost and won again, each reversal of fortune coming at great cost. But in the fine tradition of the great Talmudic rabbis whose wisdom and heart he so finely embodies, he ends his film by reminding us that though the war may not be over any time soon, none of us is at liberty to stop fighting.

“The truth is in every resistance movement there are cities of symbolic value,” he reminds us at the film’s very end. “As in 1938, when many of Spain’s friends could not grasp why such an effort was made to retake Teruel, Chasiv Yar and Bakhmut are cities that express the no pasaran spirit of Ukraine … At stake is the fate of the men and women who for 600 days have been living and dying at the gates of hell. Also at stake is our own fate. For Putin is synonymous with the worst in this world. And it is for us that the bell will toll should Ukraine fall.”

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