Jessica Pearce and Christie-Anna Ozorio review For Those Who Can Tell No Tales and Everyday Rebellion respectively, films that featured at HRAFF in Melbourne and tackle two of the great barriers to social justice – fear and apathy.
Unafraid of the dark
Film review by Jessica Pearce
For Those Who Can Tell No Tales | Jasmila Zbanic
Even for people who don’t or can’t watch horror films, the tropes of the genre are very familiar: a lone, vulnerable protagonist, usually female; an isolated location, maybe exotic; an old, abandoned building, sometimes a character in itself; a monster, human or otherworldly. Abstract soundscapes and stormy weather contribute to a feeling of prickly physical alienation that makes us scared. Some of us love this sensation—it’s a feast for the senses, a game for the body. For others, horror is too uncomfortable, too uncanny to be enjoyable.
For Those Who Can Tell No Tales is a horror film in reverse, pulled inside-out. Instead of narrative that turns on the axis of something terrifying, playing hide-and-seek with the viewer until the horrible is revealed fully, explicitly, this film investigates horror after-the-fact. It exposes the absence of horror. The film is many things — a feminist revision of history, a moving-image memorial, an expose of the machine that is Western tourism — but is ultimately a type of reflexive horror film. If the genre can be understood to get into, to pick away at the social unconscious, to speak to things we’re afraid of (the abject, the Other, the unknown), here, the genre is used to construct horror, to acknowledge it, where it has been ignored, erased and forgotten. It uses our bodies to help us feel the profound atrocity of war and to communicate a human rights violation in an alternative, sensory way.
It is a story that speaks to female vulnerability, female suffering and the silence surrounding the female experience of war.
Based on true events, For Those Who Can Tell No Tales follows Australian actress Kym Vercoe (who wrote the one-woman play on which the film is based) on a holiday to Bosnia-Herzegovina. She’s picked the country as a kind of challenge to the typical Australian getaway—she wants to go somewhere else. It’s summer, and Kym is an unashamed Australian tourist: sunny and inquisitive, colourful in her jumbled, backpacking clothes and framed in postcard tableaus. She has prepared for her holiday by reading a novel, The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric, and a guidebook. Both point her in the direction of Visegrad, a town in eastern Bosnia. She is in awe of the beauty of the town, nestled in the picturesque Balkans; she spins in front of her camera to take a clumsy, gleeful selfie on the grand Ottoman-era bridge that straddles the river.
Kym checks into the hotel Vilina Vlas, a chalet-like building surrounded by forest recommended to her by the guidebook. It’s retro in an Eastern-European way. Her stay is ordinary—she washes her underwear in the sink and hangs it on the balcony, she goes to a club and a man attempts to chat her up. But her night is inexplicably sleepless. Her body turns in the sheets in the darkness, creating a remarkable feeling of displacement for the viewer; then, she falls ill. It’s not until Kym gets back to Sydney that she discovers the truth about her holiday—thousands of people were brutally massacred in Visegrad during the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995. One particularly horrific mass slaughter took place on the bridge. The hotel Vilinia Vlas, where she as a lone female traveller took shelter, undressed, attempted to sleep, was a concentration and ‘rape camp’ for young women.
Vercoe’s goal, as Kym within the narrative and outside it as the creator the film object, is to acknowledge the war crimes that had seemingly been forgotten. Instead of recreating the events of the war like a typical documentary, this film attempts something much more ambitious: to build a memorial of a devastating event without actually depicting that event or conversing with any parties involved. This is a challenge, since film is an inherently visual medium. Kym goes back to Bosnia-Herzegovina, hoping that she may have missed a key memorial. But, no trace of the events that occurred during the Bosnian War in Visegrad can be found on the city or its inhabitants. She begins to look closer, and turns her shock, naivety and despair into power—her story becomes the story of the women incarcerated, tortured and killed at Vilinia Vlas.
For Those Who Can Tell No Tales is by no means a perfect film—the plot is often stilted, the dialogue sometimes artificial. But this isn’t a narrative film. As a memorial, it is fearless and poetic. As a piece of art, particularly during the scenes that take place inside the hotel (recalling classic films such as The Shining and Psycho in which history, architecture and the secrets of the past seem to charge the environment with horror, where the building is a monster of its own), it is devastating and triumphant in its goals. Director Jasmila Zbanic’s camera studies the town of Visegrad with audacity—the cracks and crevices of the old bridge, the bedclothes and pillows in the hotel room, the empty dining hall in Vilina Vlas, searching for the truth. The objects in attendance during the horrors of the war have been wiped clean but they speak silently of what’s not there. In the tradition of Michael Haneke, who uses long takes and static recordings in real time to evoke an everyday horror that we can’t see, or that we refuse to see, For Those Who Can Tell No Tales invokes the memory of the atrocities in the water, the snow, the air. It brings to life something that can’t be seen in whispered vigil.
The film is also resolutely feminist. It is a story that speaks to female vulnerability, female suffering and the silence surrounding the female experience of war. Female eyes look into the film, and out of it. If it’s said that history is written by the victors, a parallel sentiment is that history is guarded, enforced, by men. Vercoe is silenced by the men she encounters, who deal in fear and obfuscation—the author of her guidebook, a historian who takes her on a tour of Visegrad, two ‘police’ who detain and harass her, an angry Bosniak resident. These men are unable and unwilling to start a conversation with her about the truth; while the sentiment that they’re doing ‘what’s best for Bosnia’ might ring with sincerity, this idea denies the lives lost the right to be spoken for, be remembered.
In it’s discussion of human rights, particularly the rights of women, For Those Who Can Tell No Tales is an important gesture. It’s also a moving, sensory viewing experience. It demonstrates its thesis remarkably well in its final moments—that art can provide some salvation after loss; that the moving image can provide a voice in the absence of another; and, that the most poignant memorials aren’t just inanimate pieces of marble and stone but living, breathing, dancing things.
The rebellion revolution
Film review by Christie-Anna Ozorio
Everyday Rebellion | Arash T. Riahi, Arman T. Riah
As a 20-year-old University student in the midst of systemised Facebook stalking, unfiltered brain-to-mouth Twitter vomit, normalised selfie idolatry, and obsessive compulsive Instagram updates,it’s easy to see the negatives of social media.
It is a vehicle for excessive narcissism, strongly affects self-esteem and self-image, and inevitably fosters an infatuation with the whereabouts and menial happenings of acquaintances and friends of friends. On a good day, scrolling through memes and entertaining vines and provides a good chuckle. On a dreary, grey skied morning when after little sleep with my head pulsing harder than a latino beat, I vehemently despise “ironic” hashtags, over-sharers and stalkers. Contemptuous cynicism is a favourite attitude amongst many a Y-Generationer.
Then I saw Everyday Rebellion.
“We are ordinary people. We are like you. We are concerned and angry about our political, economic and social conditions.”
These are the opening words of Everyday Rebellion, the sold-out documentary that was greeted with riotous applause on its sole showing for the Human Rights Arts & Film Festival in Melbourne. Arriving late, as we were glared down to the front row of the cinema, a stark white face against black furiously gestured and screamed at us, “Boys and girls –what is going on?!” A perfect summation of Everyday Rebellion’s siren call is the past results and future possibilities of nonviolent civil disobedience, or as defined in the project’s manifesto: “a tribute to the creativity of the nonviolent resistance.”
The undercurrent of David versus Goliath bravery surfaces in all of the different perspectives that the film visits; from the unemployed evictee living in Madrid to the unnamed Iranian anti-government protestor who dares not show her face on camera.
While the film as a whole defines cinematic beauty and directorial eloquence, it also weaves an engaging and intricate web of personal stories alongside revolutions. Yes, it presents various movements, from the Spanish Indignados to Occupy, but it is also devoted to small activists like Inna Shevchenko, the exiled leader of Ukranian protest group Femen, and two Syrian refugee camp volunteers.
Shevchenko’s scenes, for example, are mainly filmed through her own handheld camera as she flees across Europe from Ukranian secret police. Her first-hand blogging is interspersed with media footage of her and other Femen activists ambushing various political figures – an intense visual that seemed to win the feminists great respect from many a guffawing audience member.
The undercurrent of David versus Goliath bravery surfaces in all of the different perspectives that the film visits; from the unemployed evictee living in Madrid to the unnamed Iranian anti-government protestor who dares not show her face on camera. But what Everyday Rebellion is so uniquely successful at doing is juxtaposing the gravity of one revolutionary’s situation with the relentless optimism of another’s. In Syria, a character walks through the ghostly ruins of what used to be his home; the next moment he induces smiles as he writes “Free Syria” on ping-pong balls, unleashing them in a flood of bouncing orange down cobbled streets and into main squares as his cheerful voiceover describes Syrian army officers scrambling to collect them. The audience hurrah and whoop.
Most award-winning documentaries tend to revolve around more depressing, sobering situations, especially those that are environmentally-inclined. Therefore it is a breath of fresh, nonconformist air indeed to watch this cross-media attempt to use humour and empathy to stir the budding activist within every one of us. Interwoven with the film’s contagious optimism and cheeky satire, the utterly human aspect creates an inexorable bond between viewer and protester that embodies the main fibre of Everyday Rebellion. Ultimately, the goal of filmmakers Arash and Arman Riahi is to awaken the public through showing us howanyone can take up the banner of nonviolent protest, whether it be against an idea, a government, or a corporation.
The Everyday Rebellion project takes advantage of the first world obsession with social media to broadcast its message of nonviolent protest. Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr become a soapbox for the nonviolent idea to spread with purpose and vigour. It symbolises normal, everyday people reaching out to normal, everyday people. No longer does the stereotypical rebel dress and speak like an anarchist; they are you and I. And the line to take away from Everyday Rebellion is clear: we should all be protesting.