BEIRUT: In Beirut, one man creates a puzzle of the city’s past in order to tell some painful stories left untold but not forgotten.
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: October 20, 2018
Erased, ___Ascent of the Invisible

Org: Tirss, Rihlat Alsoo'oud ila Almar'i)Country: Lebanon, 2018

In 1983, during the Lebanese civil war, artist, animator and now first time film director Ghassan Halwani witnessed the kidnapping of a man he knew. Many years later, Halwani thought he saw that man in a crowd. It was only for a moment but enough to stir the memory of a period that left thousands of unanswered questions.

Taken but not forgotten

The disappearance he witnessed was one of the many thousands of disappearances during a civil war that lasted for a decade and a half. An overwhelming amount of these cases remain unsolved to this day. Combining visual tools – from photos and drawings to maps, text and his own animations – Halwani’s debut film is an emotionally powerful experimental essay. Through his efforts to not let the disappeared be forever forgotten, the film explores what remains of a collective drama when authorities, time and the flux of life come together to erase from memory not only what happened but the very identities of those people who lived and are no more.

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Halwani was not alone in witnessing that man being taken away. Someone else took a photo, and that photo appears at the beginning of the film. It’s not the original version. Halwani modified it to erase both the kidnappers and the victim. Only a shoe and a hat are still visible, and he placed the text from the t-shirt the kidnapped man was wearing on a wall in the background. «I gave it my best shots» the text reads.

In the place of the people in the photo is now what looks like a cloud, a ghostly shape, a clue that something critical is happening. The image has magnetism and not seeing the people in it does not take away from its power. If anything, it strengthens its impact on the viewer. A kidnapping is taking place – we are told – and we are now witnesses, our eyes scanning the photo for clues and trying to penetrate that blurred cloud where the people used to be.

«The viewer is absorbed in a narrative of mysteries and injustice in which its characters are present without being there at all.»

Seeing this kidnapping scene brings an incredible urgency to understanding what has happened, and this tension sets the premise for the rest of the film. The viewer is absorbed in a narrative of mysteries and injustice in which its characters are present without being there at all. The only human faces that …

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