Let’s play torture

TORTURE / The Berlinale again goes straight into harsh and provoking subjects.

If it may be allowed to ask right from the beginning: Should torture be represented, and how can it be possible? Going straight into the highest degree of human bestiality as the main subject is, of course, a provocative act, but who should be the potentially interested viewer, taking benefit from it, besides just experiencing horror?

Three works from this year’s Berlinale took the challenge, and all three chose not to represent torture itself but to evoke it in the viewer’s mind. Two of the works came from ex-Iranian filmmaker Mehran Tamadon, living in for years now in France. He hasn’t experienced torture himself but has listened to the accounts of victims who have experienced all forms of it, sometimes for many years. Tamadon insisted on approximative re-enactment and the detailed reconstruction of spatial and time conditions, evoking the torture instruments and forms applied in long periods of complete isolation or overcrowded prison caves.

For all its testimonies, the request to go back straight into their traumas, being again reminded of what they already can’t ever forget, is a most painful challenge, often interrupted by tears, cries, and broken voices. The past stays present through the lasting mental and physical injuries.

Remembering is pure torture by itself.

Jaii keh khoda nist

In Jaii keh khoda nist (Where God is not), presented in Berlinale’s Forum section, the day-to-day experiences are evoked, all the mental steps from resisting to assimilation, passing through breakdowns, up to finally trying to change their mindset, to assimilate, to invent or gives out names, just to survive. Remembering is pure torture by itself. Permanent breaks are necessary to give the victims time to recover. Is a documentary worth it to create such pain again?

The declared intention of Mehran Tamadon insisting questions is to understand how all this is possible and to answer the question if the torturers have a conscience. Will they feel regret if one day they are confronted with this documentation, looking into their own horror faces?

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This intention risks being meaningless when facing the fact that decision-makers and executors in Nazi camps, sending thousands to a painful death, have often been in their private lives tender family fathers and faithful Beethoven admirers. Often enough, scientific studies have confirmed that orders are always more powerful and decisive in hierarchical systems than conscience or morals. So decisive and not difficult to arrange is to cut an empathic by defining the victims as enemies and not as humans. And even if a certain blockage still may resist in the first performed torture acts, this is quickly over, passed as habitude, and not even worth considering. Consequently, all the appearing victims agreed that this documentary’s purpose would fail.

Mon pire ennemi Mehran Tamadon Zar Amir Ebrahimi
Mon pire ennemi, a film by Mehran Tamadon with Zar Amir Ebrahimi

Mon pire ennemi

Mehran Tamadon presented a second documentary in this year’s challenging Berlinale Encounters section, Mon pire ennemi (My Worst Enemy). Here he even goes a step further and puts himself in the victim’s position, being tortured by an internationally renowned female actor in exile who accepts the challenge. Having experienced torture by herself, to step into the role of the Iranian torturer is, as we can imagine, an experience, one which touches the fragile barriers of self-reconstruction.

But torture cannot be played, as she declared from the beginning. The film set ensures itself as a security base. What she can apply is a kind of mental torture. As a familiar person to Tamadon, she can revoke memories of painful degrading experiences and slighter physical pain as setting him out on the public street just after a cold insisting shower, only with underpants, chasing him on the road to his son’s school. But she will not break his legs, as she lapidary remembered. Negotiation from his side, like not being completely naked, settles this experience better in a sadomasochistic game, just like a real torture situation. Also, this actress is deeply convinced, underlining that confronting the true torturers with this kind of documentation will not have any real impact.

Mehran Tamadon isn’t innocent about his possible naivety and even integrates it into the dialogues of his documentary. Still, we need to admit that already in 2014, at Berlinale’s Forum presentation of his documentary Iranien, he tried to establish a dialogue between Basij Iranian military members, to stabilize a common ground against political tendencies of demonization. In vain, his Iranian passport was confiscated, and he could never return to his country.

De facto Selma Doborac
De facto, a film by Selma Doborac

De facto

War propaganda can transform peaceful existences into killers (even if the word got taboo in this context) quickly. De facto by Selma Doborac, in collaboration with Christoph Bach and Cornelius Obonya as speakers, enters into another form in the centre of massacres, war crimes and violent perversities. For understandable reasons, she is not counting on reconstructions or re-enactments. Instead, two actors sitting on comfortable chairs in a park resume real atrocities in very different places, quoting verdicts, perpetrator statements, witness testimonies, and confessions by whistleblowers at a high speed. Even philosophical reflections are woven together in this 130-minute trip into the absolute darkness of human existence.

Finally, the three documentaries question who and what «humans” really are, questioning the impact of values, morals and culture of real acting, especially in horde conditions.

Featured Image: Jaii keh khoda nist, a film by Mehran Tamadon

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Dieter Wieczorek
Dieter Wieczorekhttp://www.signesdenuit.com
Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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