Barefoot Columns

Hate, violence and deep questions

Abraham Attah, the Ghananian teenager who won a festival award for best young actor, poses upon arrival at the awards ceremony for the 72nd edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, on September 12, 2015.  

Among the international films screened at the Venice Film Festival 2015, those that stirred me the most were the political films with a conscience. In my selection of the best, there was one tracking the rise of religious extremism in Israel, with chilling parallels to contemporary India, a second on the brutal bloodletting in civil wars in Africa, and a third on the toll of human suffering extracted by Maoist insurgency in Nepal.

Amos Gitai’s Rabin, The Last Day, is a compelling forensic investigation into the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995. Rabin exhibited great political courage to sign the Oslo Accords in 1994, which created the Palestinian National Authority and granted it partial control over parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. A year earlier, Arafat had renounced violence, and Rabin officially recognised the PLO.



Harsh Mander


His statesmanship won him international esteem, the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize (along with Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres) and the admiration and gratitude of many Israelis who longed for peace after decades of warfare. But there were many other Israelis enraged by decisions to ‘give away’ to the ‘enemy’ land they were convinced belonged rightfully to Israel, who blamed him for Jewish deaths in terror attacks. Gitai makes no secret of his admiration for Rabin. His film, which combines documentary footage with dramatic recreations, engages mainly with the systematic climate of hate nurtured by religious extremist rabbis and their followers.

We witness former law student Yigal Amir, the unrepentant gunman who joins the peace rally, firing the fatal gunshots which take Rabin’s life. The investigating committee holds him guilty for the crime. But Gitai’s film chillingly recreates the climate of fanaticism, extremism, anger and hate fostered in Israel of those days, with rabbis who curse Rabin and call for his death, frenzied demonstrations openly instigating violence, and zealous religiously orthodox settlers. The tragedy for Israel, the region and the world is that these elements continue to influence the popular and political discourse in Israel even today.

I recalled investigations into Nathuram Godse’s culpability for Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Like Amir, Godse was ultimately seen as an individual agent, absolving the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha for fostering the hate and frenzy that placed the gun in Godse’s hand. The bigotry, religious extremism, intolerance and hatred portrayed in the film also echo chillingly with public conversations in India today.

The second film is Cary Joji Fukunaga's painfully beautiful adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s 2005 novel Beasts of No Nation, a harrowing account of a child soldier recruited in a civil war in an unnamed African country. Abraham Attah, the Ghanaian teenager won the Venice festival award for best young actor, for his role of a boy, Agu, being raised by his family in the middle of civil war. His mother and younger siblings are shifted to a relief camp, and his father and older brother shot by marauding insurgents. Agu, alone in the jungle, is captured by a rival militant group, which inducts him as a child soldier.

This deeply affecting film is unflinching in its narration of the steady brutalisation of the boy who learns to kill without baulking in an ugly war of mindless unremitting cruelty. It is graphic without being gratuitous, compassionate without being sentimental. Still at times the brutishness becomes too hard to bear. I gratefully grasped the tenuous hope of ultimate healing offered by the story at the end, recognising however that most such children do not get another chance. The film is a fitting and timely reminder to the world that the greatest burdens of the wars that we continue to unleash across the planet are borne by children.

My third selection is another film about children caught up in civil war, but from a very different corner of the world, Nepal in our neighbourhood. This first Nepalese long feature film ever screened in Venice, Min Bahadur Bham’s debut feature Kalo Pothi (The Black Hen), won the prestigious ‘International Critics’ Award for Best Film’. At one level, this charming film traces the endearing friendship of two boys in a remote mountainous village and their efforts to save their pet hen. Their friendship endures although one boy is Dalit and the other, the upper caste son of the village headman. But the story unfolds against the background of the Maoist insurgency and civil war which tore apart the country for more than a decade. Despite its gentle tone, the film evolves into a powerful indictment of the guerrilla movement and of political violence in general.

Films in the festival did span eternal themes — of love, loneliness and longing, sexuality, being young and growing old — but this time, films that most seized my soul were those which interrogated the politics of hate and violence sweeping our world today.

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