Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

I’m not the remains. I exist.

TRAUMA / Three souls entwine in trauma's shadowed glades.
Director: Helin Çelik
Distributor: sixpackfilm
Country: Austria, Spain

Helin Çelik’s experimental film Anqa is an intimate portrayal of three Jordanian women who went through traumatic life-altering experiences. What happened is not made explicit. It comes across as impressions, pointing towards physical and sexual abuse and time in jail. The close-up shots, the fragmented confessions of the women, and the textural examination of their environments inside their homes – come together as an emotional mosaic of the aftermath of trauma.

Anqa Helin Çelik
Anqa, a film by Helin Çelik


Understand: time is an image of melancholy / Outside of time is our true form / For this worldly time is a cage: / Outside all is Mount Qaf / and the Anqa – reads a Rumi poem at the beginning of the film. The women and their psyche do feel cut from the world, cut from time, and by that, out of the cage, like in a parallel world.

In Arabic literature, Qaf is the highest of all mountain ranges created by Allah to support the earth. The oceans surrounding the known world separate it from the world of people. It came to symbolize the cosmic mountain where the natural and the supernatural met, and the link between the terrestrial and celestial words was established. And it’s said that anqa – a large mysterious and fabulous mythological female bird will come there. Anqa, at the same time, is also linked to anaq, meaning misfortune or tough affair, and was used to mean calamity.

It’s a calamity that changed each one of them. It changed their lives, but they survived. The cause of their suffering is not explicitly named, but it’s palpable and at the core of the film. It breathes through each shot – their isolation and pain are in their eyes and physical presence. It’s like a part of them is living on, and part is a painful representation of their hurt that surfaces through their confessions of their thoughts and nightmares.

The cause of their suffering is not explicitly named, but it’s palpable and at the core of the film.

Life inside

Textures, wallpaper patterns, and the light coming through the curtains are their environment and safe space. And there is peace and perfect silence in their homes. Life is cut in between two very different spaces: the inside of their homes and the outside, where the sun shines bright, with flowers and hill edges. The women are disconnected from this outside world, every now and then opening their door or stepping out, scenes marked by unease. Their territory is the inside, where they sit quietly in the internal vacuum their trauma has created.

It’s from this internal vacuum, a place of pain and being stuck – that their words and fragments of their stories come. One has beautiful girls, but she says she thinks they’d be better off dead, safe from the world. She had the thought of killing them to keep them safe. Another cannot sleep at night, hunted by a nightmare of ‘him’ coming back.

These women are outcasts. ‘People say you are the remains of a woman,’ a voice says towards one of them. Filmed in an extreme close-up, like a magnifier on the texture of her skin, her head covered by a hijab, whipping her eyes, looking down – her presence on the screen feels disconcerting. She calls these people fools. «I’m not the remains,» she says, «I exist.»

The hyper-focus of the camera, showing their faces only in details or profiles – no full body shots – adds to the sense of isolation surrounding them. So do the long silences that mark their daily lives. All three of them exist, but they are hardly living.

Anqa Helin Çelik
Anqa, a film by Helin Çelik

Watching them is uncomfortable. Their presence is uneasy. Witnessing so close to the darkness of their pain comes with discomfort. Their inner life is dark. And the film claims no compassion. It’s not about that, and it’s not a film about what happened, but one about that internal weight they carry and that gloom. No names are given, no location. The film is not geographically specific, though the fact that their communities isolated and judged them is a cultural element often specific to more traditional societies. But all together, Anqa is not about any of this. Instead, it’s a cinematic treatment of pain. Çelik makes art out of suffering and, by that, reaches the universal, cutting to the core of these three women’s existential experiences. And by that, one gets to feel – not for them, but through them – the quintessence of darkness and pain.

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Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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