Man at War


A documentary about devout players of the World War II computer flight simulator IL-2 Sturmovik, the nimble, funny Man at War examines a video game as return of the repressed—it could well be called Why We Keep Fighting. Jacek Blawut’s film introduces players from the U.S., Poland, Russia, and Germany during the preparation to convene online for an Allied bombing mission over Hamburg—or its defense. There are no casual players here, but the sort who make their own customized equipment: One Pole is strapped into a rig designed to electrocute him when he dies, another Luftwaffe cozies into his own homemade cockpit. The stakes are no higher than threat of game over, but when these men talk about their hobby, they broach a whole host of questions about masculinity, national identity, and heritage—of particular interest is the schism among the Polish players, whose loyalties are divided between the Axis and the Allies. Among Americans, the most ardent is a Cuban-born young man; one “pilot” is an Iraq-war veteran himself, while others have fathers and grandfathers who fought in the air. The world over, a great deal of humor comes from mystified wives, or one babushka grandma. (“He should get married. He just sits on the computer all night.”) The film’s centerpiece is the big day of air combat itself, synchronizing reaction shots from two continents with live game play, during which the passionate engagement, with hisses of “invader” and “fascist,” belies the old saying “It’s only a game.”