One of the ways to disguise the sheer ugliness of war is to place it under the umbrella of politics. When that happens, it becomes remote and death becomes just a number on a counter. War is personal and the film, As If I’m Not There, does nothing to disguise the evil.
The movie is set against the backdrop of the Bosnian war, in which a young woman from Sarajevo travels to a village in order to work as a temporary teacher. The scene is tranquil and peaceful and she writes to her parents, “Life here is …” and then stops. The word that should have come next was ‘indescribable’.
Soon after her arrival, the village is plundered, the men killed and the women moved to a camp. Natasha Petrovic plays the role of the school teacher Samira, who possesses a natural beauty with striking and expressive eyes. What she sees is grim. Her beauty is a catalyst to her demise and yet offers the potential for her survival.
The film examines the intricate balance of power between men and women and how this power is intermingled with sex. The women from the village are nothing but sex objects for the soldier’s amusement. Samira’s beauty is as serene as the village, but war destroys serenity. Instead of succumbing to the destruction, she reaches within herself to fight back with the only weapon she has left - her femininity.
You will find the film under recommended in Editor’s Picks. However, it is also described as a must-see, which is debatable. On the one hand, the film is heart-breaking, haunting and horrific. Some of the scenes are unbearable and the hopelessness and despair take you to the depths of the abyss. The atrocities of war are personal and inescapable and one wonders why anyone should be subjected to such suffering and pain. On the other hand it is truly a beautiful tale of survival and the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
There are clear and seemingly insurmountable barriers between the soldiers and their victims. Yet at the heart of the movie there’s a message of endurance and how we must never lose our humanity, especially during horrendous times like these. We collectively inherit the consequences of wars determined by a few; there’s no escaping from it and perhaps the only way to move on is to embrace it.
As If I’m Not There is a raw tale of survival and a reflection of the capacity of the human spirit to overcome atrocities. The picture is grainy and the music does not interject unnecessarily, while emotions are raw and unadorned for viewers. Director Juanita Wilson daringly shows a full-length sequence of an agonising gang-rape, nor does she shy away from telling the story of a young girl, less than 14 years of age, being raped and killed. This amount of realism can be just too gruesome and at times unbearable and some of the audience walked out during the screening.
The tales are all based on real-life experiences, relayed at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at the Hague, observed by Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulic.
The film was screened as a main entry in the Cairo International Film Festival on 4 December 2010. It will certainly make a few heads turn, if not win some of the categories in the competition.
The film will be screened on Sunday 5 December in Galaxy Cinema at 9:30 pm and again on Monday 6 December in Stars Cinema at 9:30 pm