There’s a very cool television series hiding in plain sight in “E-Team,” Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman’s improbably entertaining documentary about four glamorous world travelers whose jobs happen to be reporting on war crimes and human rights abuses.
As emergency investigators for Human Rights Watch, Anna Neistat and her husband, Ole Solvang, regularly visit such war-torn battlefields as Syria and Libya, where they meticulously record the experiences of civilians who have been subjected to unimaginable violence and degradation. Their reports are then disseminated to the media and in international courts as evidence that, with any luck, will bring perpetrators to justice and otherwise invisible stories to public consciousness.
It’s all very earnest and high-minded, but “E-Team” thankfully dispenses with self-righteousness and portrays Neistat, Solvang and their colleagues — weapons expert Peter Bouckaert and Berlin-based Fred Abrahams — not as do-gooders, but as glamorous, sophisticated cosmopolitans who also are on the side of the angels. For every grisly shot of death and carnage in “E-Team,” Chevigny and Kauffman include soothing images of the couple in their Paris apartment, playing piano and tending to their bright 12-year-old son; the film’s most tense sequence, when the investigators sneak into Syria, plays like a real wartime thriller. (The film, which plunges viewers directly into the often dangerous action, deservedly won a cinematography award at the Sundance Film Festival.)
“E-Team” has come into some criticism for compromising the seriousness of its subject by focusing on Neistat and Solvang’s marriage — think Nick and Nora Charles of “The Thin Man” meet “Homeland” — but it’s refreshing to see human rights work presented not as a chore, but as a deeply meaningful adventure. The film’s subtext, having to do with Neistat’s pregnancy and the tensions between global obligations and parental ones, leaves it to filmgoers to answer the enterprise’s most haunting questions. Exciting, absorbing and stubbornly optimistic in the face of overwhelming devastation, “E-Team” will, with any luck, shed deserved light on the routine sacrifices these activists and professionals make for the sake of human values. The cool factor suggests that it might inspire some viewers to take up the cause as well.
★ ★ ★
Unrated. At West End Cinema. Contains graphic wartime violence and adult themes. 88 minutes.