“…Quick get your bullets…Quick get your gun powder…I can shoot all of them because I have the fastest and the biggest airplane in the whole world and I have a lot of guns!”
In the film Cenetar by Connie Walsh we see a young child with white hair and pink chubby cheeks playing. He is sitting cross-legged in front of a screen on which a bright blue sky and white puffy clouds. His improvised monologue is combined with audio recordings of fighter pilots. An innocent child gives orders for total destruction. At the end of the work we hear bombs falling and just before the boy disappears from the screen we see him laughing mischievously. His eyes express a glimpse of acknowledgement that something alarming and perhaps unethical has happened, but at the same time his mouth betrays a sign of playful delight.
As a filmmaker I reflect on how I, as an artist and spectator, am attracted to people who find themselves in dangerous situations, or who create dangerous situations for themselves and/or others. It is the tension, the disbelief and the excitement that draw me to cruel scenes and narratives. The depiction of violence is like a kind of attractive forbidden fruit that allows me to think about human conditions. But at the same time, my curious gaze can be considered as obscene and voyeuristic. In these times of political radicalization and theoretical demandingness in the arts, the images of aggression, power and misery are viewed critically. I note that this ubiquitous critical eye in my own artistic trajectory produces caution, paralysis and fainting. The filmmakers in this program inspire me by opposing this hypercritical position. With their work they know how to reach a borderland between provocation and tactility, between directness and sensitivity, between horror and beauty, between playfulness and keen investigation.
In her film described above, Connie Walsh researches how and when human aggression arises. Beate Geissler & Oliver Sann go one step further in fuck the war. The film opens with a shot of a dilapidated car dealership. A swastika has been spray painted on the door.
In the following shot we see two young boys dressed in military outfits, holding guns that are hardly discernible from real ones in their hands. The left of the two laughs, he bends over from all the laughter and can barely stand on his two legs. But then suddenly, from one moment to the next, he stops laughing and starts shooting. The boys’ desire for violence is related to our memories from the Second World War. In this way, the film questions where child’s play turns into the deadly reality we are confronted with.
In 3 Logical Exits by Mahdi Fleifel, Palestinian men speak about the violence they deal with as if they are discussing grocery shopping. In their reality violence seems like the most natural thing in the world. Their relationship to death, conflict and aggression differs greatly from mine. The most poignant moment is when Fleifel discovers that the men are dancing to celebrate the death of an opponent. The film masterfully translates the gray zone (the images literally transform into gray pixels) between sadness, pain, destruction, pleasure and celebration.
Jumama Manna searches for a similar twilight zone in Blessed Blessed Oblivion. In her film, machismo and vulnerability meet. She portraits the male gangster culture of barbers and car dealers in the streets of East Jerusalem. The tough self-glorification of the men is met by a sensitive and at times sensual manner of filming. The film depicts the conflict in which the filmmaker expresses herself critically about the machismo culture on the one hand, but at the same time allows herself to be seduced by her subjects.
Energie Sombre by Florian Pugnaire & David Raffini contains a similar type of machismo. The filmmakers’ goal is to destroy a car. The aggression of the filmmakers and the destruction of the car is reminiscent of the children who are shooting at a washing machine and demolishing it with iron bars in Fuck the War. I can’t help but think that this film is the realization of a young boy’s dream. By placing the apparently playful and innocent demolition of the car in a forest polluted by capitalist industry, the limits of up to where destruction is allowed are questioned.
In Liberian Boy, Mati Diop & Manon Lutanie film the developing body of a dancing teenager. The erotic choreography and costume he is wearing unambiguously refer to icon Michael Jackson. Off screen, in the spectator’s imagination, we feel a thrill as the film masterfully brings in Michael Jackson’s violent sexual history. As the film progresses, the dancing becomes more and more aggressive, until the boy appears to be stabbing someone, and the viewing experience becomes more vulgar and uncomfortable.
Walsh, Geissler & Sann en Diop & Lutanie poetically investigate how to translate a history of violence to film. Fleifel captures men who are in constant danger, Manna potentially puts herself in dangerous situations being the only woman in a gangster culture. Yet the films are anything but violent. The clouds in Cenetar, the poem in Blessed Blessed Oblivion, the green screen in Liberian Boy and the gray pixels in 3 Logical Exits are cinematographic worlds that allow me to dream away. With my head in the clouds (as the expression goes) I imagine violent scenes without them appearing on the screen. The clouds allow me to take a break from paying attention, to look in a non-judgemental way at my craving for sensation when allowing myself to look at the pain of others.
Eva van Tongeren
About the person
Eva van Tongeren is an artist and curator working with film based in Antwerp, Belgium. She is the curator and driving force of Visite Festival, a collage of experimental documentary and political cinema. In her own practice she incorporates her social and anthropological interests into personal histories and universal themes. Her filmic works vary in form but connect through the shared subject of caring.
Image Credit: Video still: Connie Walsh, Cenetar (Detail), 2008, © Courtesy the artist