VI­O­LENT VI­O­LET VI­SIONS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

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.

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