Theater of Cruelty

Clouds of lies

Erased, __ Ascent of the Invisible Director
Regissør: Ghassan Halwani

An overwhelming amount of disappearance cases remain unresolved in Lebanon.


In 1983, during the Lebanese civil war, artist, animator and now film director Ghassan Halwani witnessed the kidnapping of a man he knew. Many years later, Halwani thought he saw the same man in a crowd: It was just a brief glimpse, but enough to evoke the memory of a time that left him with thousands of unanswered questions.

The disappearance he witnessed was one of the many thousands of disappearances in the Civil War, which lasted from 1975 to 1990. An overwhelming amount of these cases are still unsolved. By combining visual elements – from photos and drawings to maps, texts and his own animations – Halwani's debut film is an emotionally strong and experimental essay. Through his attempt to avoid the lost being forever forgotten, the film explores what remains when the authorities, time and the course of life come together to erase the memory not only of what happened but of the identities of the people who did not there is more.

The truth about the past

Halwani was not alone in witnessing the abduction; Someone took a photograph of the kidnapping. This photo appears at the beginning of the movie, but not in its original version – Halwani has removed both the kidnappers and the victim. Only a shoe and a hat are still visible, and the text from the kidnapped man's shirt was worn by the director moving to a wall in the background. "I did my best," it says. The people in the photograph are replaced with something resembling a cloud, a ghostly form, a sign that something critical is happening.

The film is a reflection of the nature of collective memory.

The image is magnetic, and the fact that we do not see humans does not remove any of the power of it. If anything, it rather reinforces the effect of the image on the viewer: A kidnapping takes place, we are told, and we are now witnesses. Our eyes scan the image for signs and try to penetrate the hazy cloud covering the people. Witnessing a kidnapping creates a strong urge to understand what has happened, and this tension sets the premise for the rest of the film. The viewer is sucked into a narrative of mystery and injustice, where the characters are present – without being there at all. The only human faces that appear are the missing ones. This allows their presence to be felt, even in their absence.

The film is a reflection of the nature of the collective memory, and of what is left as the public agenda goes on and time creates sufficient distance for all the echoes of the injustice committed to be silenced. The traces of the past can be found in detail and in the eyes of those who remember. The director brings light to memories – by doing research, uncovering traces and bringing back memories – all while revealing the mechanisms that make things disappear.

The director reveals the mechanisms that make things disappear.

The truth of the past never saw the light of day, since the Lebanese authorities had no interest either in revealing it or in finding those who had disappeared. Time was on their side. And just as with other historical traumas, its time causes each lost individual to lose their individuality in the collective mind, and become a faceless victim of historical circumstances. Nevertheless, their folders in public registers are still open, in this way they live on symbolically, the lost citizens who will never be marked as lost.

Traces of the past

From beginning to end, the film invites compassion and empathy. Halwani's attempts to find traces of the past hidden in the city's present point to how we all actually live among ghosts. The places we spend our daily lives in, the landscapes of our daily routines, all hide the old places of collective trauma caused by the conflicts that took place in the past.

Experimental by nature and without real characters, Halwani combines various mediums such as drawing and animation, voiceover and images of newspapers and documents. The story they weave together and the accuracy of the order they come in should not be underestimated. They result in a powerful and emotional narrative.

A recurring scene remains with the viewer long after the film ends: A wall in a street in Beirut is covered by many layers of posters. The sum of them is a portrait of the city that is told through the events that were advertised on the wall. Two hands begin to peel off the surface, each poster being a layer of time. They peel and peel; Gradually the hands dig out a mosaic of small, faded photographs – they are part of the poster with the missing men. With a black pen, the hands write a name on each of them; a symbolic act that gives them individuality back to the public eye. Despite the fact that time passed and life rolled on, the city changed, but did not forget. The memory of them is still there, behind the layers of time. Their faces and the names on the wall are waiting for justice.

Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Nita is a freelance journalist and critic for Ny Tid.

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