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Baptism of Blood

It is a scrupulously made short film, shot with several ­cameras in 2015. Arabic letters dance atop a black background, as if afloat on a whirling current of water, finally coming together and forming a droplet of closely intertwined characters. In Arabic calligraphy—one of Islam’s most refined arts—an entire poem can be written as a single sign, which only a highly trained scribe can decode. This particular sign is the logo of one “Al Hayat Media Center.” In this carefully choreographed film, everything has its place.

Then the name of President Obama appears, his middle name, Hussein, emphasized with capital letters. We are clearly meant to recall this Muslim name as Obama himself appears on the screen. Known for his eloquence, reciting speeches as smoothly as a clergyman or actor, he’s shown in apparent distress, mourning the atrocities committed in the name of Jesus during the Crusades. The message is clear: In all of history, nothing is without consequence. Everything we’re about to see is the answer to the president’s contrite confession.

“A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross”: That’s the title of the film in English. It is elegantly set in a classical typeface, with most letters in black; only the word “blood” is red. We hear the sound of waves and see a sandy beach interspersed with rocky outcroppings. The overcast sky gives the colors intensity and depth. Text appears, informing us that it is the “Coast of Wilayat ­Tarabulus,” west of the Libyan port town of Sirte.

Then, from behind one of the rocky outcrops, a man in a bright orange jumpsuit slowly appears, his head bowed. His hands are tied behind his back and on his neck lies the hand of his companion, a black-clad giant whose face is hidden by a mask that leaves only his eyes visible. The two of them are not alone. They are followed by a long line of similar pairs in orange and black, and the men swathed in black all look to be about a head taller than the men in orange.

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