VIOLENT VIOLET VISIONS
Mosse’s film is set in the midst of the latest phase of the horror of the Congo, the endless fighting between government troops, local militias and rebels. The recent history of the region, with wars between ethnic groups, military mutinies and the inevitable involvement of neighbouring states jostling for power and influence, is too complicated to summarise easily and too senseless to be worth the attempt. Suffice it to say there are no good guys, and the death count since 1998 amounts to an almost unbelievable 5.4 million people.
Kurtz’s last words in Conrad’s book — another oracle for the 20th century — are wellknown: “The horror! The horror!” They also could stand as the epigraph to Mosse’s work, although he is well aware of the impossibility of conveying anything like the enormity of the real situation. The work does succeed, however, in conveying a memorable impression of social and political breakdown, perhaps all the more effectively for avoiding explicit and sensationalist violence.
Most immediately striking is the surreal and disturbing colouring of the film, dominated by lurid pinks and violets. This is the consequence of shooting on infra-red 16mm film, later transferred to high-definition video; the choice was motivated in the first instance by the military associations of infra-red film, used for night vision and to detect camouflaged objects.
But as well as the range of meanings evoked metonymically, the red palette of the film has a direct metaphoric expressiveness in its own right: it feels overwhelmingly like a nightmare world, as though it we were in a post-apocalyptic science fiction film.
Indeed, it would have been difficult to achieve the same effect of unrelenting menace if all the pink trees and grass had been their proper green. Many of the natural settings are inherently beautiful, and there are occasional glimpses of the grandeur of nature against which this story of human squalor and misery is played out; but the veil of red cast over everything makes it impossible to forget that human beings have alienated themselves from any communion with this natural beauty.
Another factor that helps to convey the experience of tension and confusion is the presentation of the film on six separate screens, not symmetrically placed all around us, as we might expect, but hung almost at random and at oblique angles to one another in the space. We are presented with different images on the various screens, while some are blank and occasionally the film splutters to a stop as through the spool had run out. As for what we see on the screens, images run on a loop of 39 minutes and 25 seconds, without a clear beginning or end or any unified narrative thread. We see soldiers and paramilitaries in various uniforms, many of them very young and soon to be dead, murdered by other young men almost identical to themselves except belonging to some tribe, ethnic group, political or religious group or gang.