Pete Doherty is a really, really bad actor

The former Libertine isn't very good at playing a libertine.

Witness the trailer for Pete Doherty's debut film role, in which the ex-Libertine mumbles his way through his lines with the grace of a gawky sixth former desperately reciting some half-learned poetry to an uninterested crush:

Notice too how little the trailer shows of Doherty actually acting. There's a reason for this, apparently. As the Guardian's Catherine Shoard writes:

His performance as a shambling yet sensitive libertine (geddit?) in Sylvie Verheyde's adaptation of the Alfred de Musset novel is catastrophic. Still, that does mean it's tonally of a piece with the rest of the film.

Or the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw (yes, the film is so bad they gave it two one-star reviews):

It's not exactly like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs. It's more like seeing one of those dogs on the TV show That's Life! that could say "sausages". Only instead of saying "sausages", it's saying, "You understand, madam, that I am the greatest libertine in all Paris!" while wearing a top hat.

The Telegraph's Robbie Collin is kinder. To the film, at least:

How much damage can one man’s performance wreak on an otherwise serviceable film? When the film is this adaptation of Alfred de Musset’s semi-fictionalised memoir, and the man is Pete Doherty, the answer could be measured on the Richter scale.

The Hollywood Reporter's Megan Lehmann:

The role of a beautiful and damned 19th century libertine sounds like a perfect fit for disheveled English rock poet Pete Doherty, but then there’s the little matter of being able to act. 

Based on his debut performance in Sylvie Verheyde’s Cannes Un Certain Regard entry, Confessions of a Child of the Century, an intolerably dull adaptation of French romanticist Alfred de Musset’s 1830s novel of debauchery and despair, the Libertines and Babyshambles singer shouldn’t even think of giving up his day job.

Total Film's James Mottram:

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, casting the former Libertines frontman as Octave, the debauched Parisian, but the novelty soon wears off. Suffocated by Sylvie Verheyde’s lifeless direction, Doherty’s so ill at ease you’d think his britches were too tight.

At this point, I started feeling bad for Doherty, so I tried to track down a good write-up. I couldn't. The film is currently 0 per cent "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes. Maybe steer clear of this one.

Pete Doherty and Charlotte Gainsbourg in Confessions of a Child of the Century.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The lute master and the siege of Aleppo

Luthier Ibrahim al-Sukkar's shop was bombed; when he moved, militants came for him. Over WhatsApp, he told me what's next.

Aleppo was once a city of music, but this year the 400,000 residents who inhabit its eastern suburbs can hear nothing but the roar of Russian warplanes, and ear-shattering blasts from the bombs they drop. To the north, west and south, the city is encircled by ground troops from the Syrian armed forces, Hezbollah and Iran. Most residents are afraid to flee, but soon, now that supply lines to the city have been cut off, many will begin to starve. We have reached the crescendo of Aleppo’s suffering in year five of the Syrian civil war.

One clear August morning in 2012, in the early weeks of the battle for the city, a man approached a street corner shop and found a hundred shattered lutes scattered across the floor. Ibrahim al-Sukkar, the engineer who had made the lutes (Arabs know the instrument as the oud), was overwhelmed. He wandered between the tables of his workshop and peered up at the sky, suddenly visible through holes in the roof. He wept on the floor, amid the dust and ash.

Some of the wooden shards that lay around him had been lutes commissioned by musicians in Europe and America. Others were to be used by students in Damascus and Amman. Each oud was built for a specific purpose. In every shard Ibrahim saw a piece of himself, a memory scattered and charred by government bombs. He packed his bags and headed for Idlib, a few hours to the west, where he set up shop a second time. A year later, his workshop was destroyed again, this time by Islamist militants.

It was at this point that Ibrahim came to a stark realisation – he was a target. If barrel bombs from government helicopters could not succeed in destroying him, the Islamists would. The cost of sourcing materials and getting goods to market had become unmanageable. The society that had inspired his desire to make musical instruments was now trying to lynch him for it.

The 11 string courses of an oud, when plucked, lend the air that passes through its bowl the sounds of Arabic modes known as maqamat. Each one evokes an emotion. Hijaz suggests loneliness and melancholy. Ajam elicits light-heartedness and cheer. An oud player’s competence is judged by his or her ability to improvise using these modes, modulating between them to manipulate the listener’s mood. The luthier, the architect of the oud system, must be equal parts artist and scientist.

This is how Ibrahim al-Sukkar views himself. He is a trained mechanical engineer, but before that he was a lover of classical Arabic music. As a young man in the Syrian countryside, he developed a talent for playing the oud but his mathematical mind demanded that he should study the mechanics behind the music. Long hours in the workshop taking instruments apart led him to spend 25 years putting them together. Ibrahim’s ouds are known for their solid construction and, thanks to his obsessive experimentation with acoustics, the unparalleled volume they produce.

Ibrahim and I recently spoke using WhatsApp messenger. Today, he is lying low in the village where he was born in Idlib province, close to the Turkish border. Every so often, when he can, he sends some of his equipment through to Turkey. It will wait there in storage until he, too, can make the crossing. I asked him if he still felt that his life was in danger. “All musicians and artists in Syria are in danger now, but it’s a sensitive topic,” he wrote, afraid to say more. “I expect to be in Turkey some time in February. God willing, we will speak then.”

Ibrahim’s crossing is now more perilous than ever. Residents of Idlib are watching the developing siege of Aleppo with a sense of foreboding. Government forces are primed to besiege Idlib next, now that the flow of traffic and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border has been intercepted. And yet, to Ibrahim, the reward – the next oud – is worth the risk.

I bought my first oud from a Tunisian student in London in autumn 2014. It is a humble, unobtrusive instrument, with a gentle, wheat-coloured soundboard covering a cavernous, almond-shaped bowl. Some ouds are decorated with rosettes, wooden discs carved with dazzling patterns of Islamic geometry. Others are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. My instrument, however, is far simpler in design, decorated only with a smattering of nicks and scratches inflicted by the nails of impatient players, and the creeping patina imprinted by the oils of their fingers on its neck.

My instructor once told me that this oud was “built to last for ever”. Only recently did I discover the sticker hidden inside the body which reads: “Made in 2006 by Engineer Ibrahim al-Sukkar, Aleppo.” 

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle