Dark, unlit prison cells, bad bug-infested food, no medicine, no contact with the family, freezing cold in winter, unbearably hot in summer, routine beatings and torture were the unimaginable conditions endured by 58 prisoners during 18 years in the Tazmamart prison in the south of Morocco.

Anette Olsen
Script writer, webfilm producer in Safran Film and journalist based in Denmark. Former editor of DOX Magazine (2001-02 and 2004-05).

Vivre À Tazmamart

Davy Zylberfajn

France, 2005, 72 min.

From 1973 to 1991 these “disappeared” persons struggled to stay alive and not lose the hope that one day they would see their families again. Officially, King Hassan II of Morocco denied the very existence of the Tazmamart prison, but in 1991 the king gave in to international pressure and ordered the release of the eighteen prisoners who had survived.

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We meet five of these men, now in their fifties or sixties, in Davy Zylberfajn’s documentary “Vivre à Tazmamart”. The director never shows the prison, and he does not take the prisoners back to the place where they suffered. Instead he films the men telling their stories in long takes that leave time for reflection and sharing with the characters.

As a film about memory, “Vivre à Tazmamart” functions as an interplay between the filmed and the viewer, inviting the viewer to connect to the narrators and their stories and let their words create images in our own minds. This is not hard at all: the characters and ex-prisoners chosen for the film are all great storytellers. The story about how one of them succeeded in capturing a ray of sunshine with a piece of a mirror and how that small thing was like a link to the outside world is especially moving. Strangely enough, the men never appear as victims, they exude a dignity and strength that may explain why they are alive.

The young director attentively lets the camerawork enter into dialogue with the narration of the men and, instead of a conventional interview style whose main goal is to lay bare the facts, the situations gain emotional value not only through what is said but also through the choice of space and locations that play against the powerful testimonies.

As the film progresses, the camera moves from space to space, starting with the confined interior of a car, moving on to the inside of a house, outdoors in a field, on the beach, and ending on a rooftop in a metaphorical movement that evokes the long journey from imprisonment to freedom. Most of the scenes are shot outside -in a field, next to the sea, with mountains or fields in the background -allowing the sounds from those open spaces to interact with the images of the person and his story, working on our own imagery and emotions in a subtle, sober way-leaving space for our own thoughts and emotional empathy.

 

 

 


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