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August 18, 2022

Ghosts of the War

The subject of the war couldn’t miss from the panorama which a large festival like TIFF offers, the more so as a special section was dedicated to the Lebanon, a country which was ravaged for years by a civil war. In “Go Home”, Jihane Chouaib (photo) tries to explore the post-traumatic amnesia. In other words, war can leave scars which are harder to be suffered by the descendants of those who are guilty than the ones of the victims. Only that therapeutic oblivion combines to an unpredictable need for justice, so that the artificial balances finally risk to collapse. Despite some old repressed memories, you may think that your grandfather was a victim, but the truth can be totally different.

Like in “Stray Bullet” by Georges Hachem, the war also becomes a good excuse for repercussions between “neighbors”. Atrocities often happen because the moral censures of the consciences are undermined by necessities related to the identity: “we are better than them”. This fact is also admitted by Assaad Chaftari, whose original confession represents the core of the remarkable documentary performed by Eliane Raheb. But what makes it different from “The Act of Killing” by Joshua Oppenheimer, which was reconstituting the “anticommunist” slaughters of the Indonesian regime of the ‘60s, is the confessional enthusiasm.

Former important intelligence officer in the group of the Maronite Christians, now marginalized, has `Sleepless Nights`, being forced to survive with the memory of so many crimes that he endorsed during the long civil war era. Being a practicing Catholic, an adept of a totally Christian Lebanon, Chaftari have fought in order to promote his own community against the others. In the end, after years of many twists, he reaches to a simple conclusion: the contempt for Muslims, assimilated without any doubts since his childhood, subsequently gave poisoned fruits. Photos of that time show him – as his son also admits – as a very confident man, in a total contrast to the tormented man of today, who is willing for moral redemption. Eliane Raheb confesses that she didn’t find anybody else willing to participate to this national confession.

Unlike South Africa, for instance, in Lebanon was granted a general amnesty without commissions of “truth and reconciliation”. The former war chiefs are now “respectable” politicians, even if thousands of people are still declared to be missing. The counterpoint of the documentary is represented by the searching of a mother who doesn’t know yet what happened to her disappeared boy. An adolescent fighting against communists – therefore being an opponent of Chaftari -, he was probably quickly buried in the period of the confrontations during the Israeli invasion in 1982. Eliane Raheb finally manages, based on more confessions of the people involved in that fight, to restore the teenager’s fate and even to identify his possible “grave”.

The most overwhelming moment of the documentary is a memory of the humble former officer: the bishop, who was spiritually comforting him, was offering him the forgiveness of his sins in blank, in advance, for killing of 500 opponents. Instead of being a factor of pacification and humanization, the Christian was, in this case, too, a promoter of the exterminating exclusivity. The film director confesses that the said bishop, who is still alive, didn’t appear in the film only because, being still proud, his image of an old man didn’t correspond to the one that she intends to leave to posterity. Otherwise, he doesn’t regret anything – like many others.

“On the Other Side” by Zrinko Ogresta also speaks about the parallel memories of the war – another national section was Croatia this year at TIFF. A woman being already grandmother, whose husband ran years ago to fight “on the other side”, receives an unexpected phone call from the one that she didn’t keep in touch anymore. Her status of a wife of the enemy, even if she had a different ethnicity, caused her a lot of difficulties – one of her sons committed suicide, while the other one was hardly rescued. But her long loneliness will make her vulnerable to the unexpected request of seeing her husband again, while he is in Belgrade following a trial at Hague for war crimes.

But the one calling her by the phone in a quasi-conspiratorial manner wasn’t actually anybody else but one of her neighbors, who substituted her husband with the intention of torturing the woman’s consciousness. Thus, he was revenging on the wife of the killer of his own wife and children. She considered herself to be the victim of the war, but she was ignoring that she lives so close to the victims who is so “intimately” bounded besides her will.

The film called “Remember” by Atom Egoyan also relates to the “guerrilla war” of the memories. A Jew who is sick of Alzheimer receives from a colleague of asylum the task to avenge their families who were killed at Auschwitz. As he was gone to identify a former head of the camp, which was now living under a pseudonym, he finally has a tragic revelation. The one he was searching for was his former colleague – the disease and the protecting amnesia made him forget that he was among the executioners, and to honestly believe that he is a simple surviving Jew.  It’s a parable about the dramatic tricks that memory can do to us, especially when running from the cruel truths of the history is a large phenomenon, having a lot of adepts.


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