ABOUT A WAR is a 2018 doc by academics & filmmakers Daniele Rugo & Abi Weaver. It looks back at the 15-year Lebanese Civil War from the perspective of three ex-combatants – Ahed, Nassim & Assad. We caught up with the film & its makers at ArtHouse Crouch End (01 MAR 20:45). Here’s our RADIANT CIRCUS writeup.
By RADIANT CIRCUS
“Our civil war started for each of us inside at different times.”
ABOUT A WAR is a 2018 documentary by academics and filmmakers Daniele Rugo and Abi Weaver. It looks back at the 15-year Lebanese Civil War (1975 to 1990) from the perspective of three ex-combatants – Ahed, Nassim and Assad. Each from a different part of the conflict, they spend much of the film talking about how war happened in their lives and what hasn’t changed in their country as a consequence.
What becomes important are their various takes on what war meant for them personally: “Everyone dirtied their hands. Everyone got involved.” It is clear that everyone also paid a heavy price: “I am always afraid for tomorrow”. Additional voices – experts from academia and the armed militias – appear occasionally on camera to provide context, as does one statistics-strewn title card towards the end. The sparse use of very raw archive footage reminds us of war’s destructiveness.
Throughout, the focus is on the men’s language and ample space is given for each of them to talk. Sometimes their language is poetic, and full of pain. Sometimes it offers a chilling, clinical account of war as a logistically complex tabletop exercise. Sometimes it’s sparse and barely adequate: “We were just a bunch of kids” is both a blunt denial of culpability and an honest account of a country out of control. The documentary is at its most arresting when all three reveal their preparedness to deal with and dissect their past. Here, language grapples with personal accountability amidst the atrocities of a civil war:
“When you realise you are a beast, what do you do? Kill yourself? Cry in the corner? Carry on?”
We hear almost entirely from the three men; no women or children are seen other than as war’s victims in the archive. In discussion with the audience afterwards, Weaver recognises this as an oversight and reveals some necessary balance: her own role as co-director and editor; a female sociologist (whose voice we fleetingly hear off-camera when the power goes out); and, a female documentarist, on the streets in 1982, who gave generously of her archive to the film. Reflecting the complex logistics in preparing such a project, a female ex-combatant was also interviewed, but it “didn’t work out”, possibly due to prior experience with a different (more partial?) crew. Weaver talks honestly about the wartime roles some women will have played, from enabling atrocities to encouraging others to take up arms. These stories too need to be heard.
And ABOUT A WAR is exactly that, a series of stories: incomplete takes on the causes and consequences of conflict that are as tangled and unresolved as the electricity cables woven through the backstreets of the Palestinian refugee camp we visit. Throughout, Weaver and Rugo remain truthful to the parallel lives that gave rise to the conflict and have not been resolved since. Such divisions are reflected structurally in the film – the subjects never meet on camera – and we see only two of them in wider contexts as they tour locations from their past. The third remains isolated, sat somewhat aloof on a sofa, recounting his personal history. This visual difference – also suggestive of class, power and wealth – reveals something about the many divisions that remain.
There are no official government accounts of this civil war and there are no easy ways to pin down conflicting truths. Everything – from the details of personal accountability to the locations of battles and final death tolls – has either been pardoned-away, lost or remains heavily contested. In a telling story of wartime confusion, one ex-combatant describes how inaccurate reports of his death under siege had reached his family. Upon finally returning home, his father, shattered by the chaos, asked him “Do you know my son? Did you see him?”
Or at least that’s how he recounts it now… Instead of neat, verified narratives, ABOUT A WAR awards us the rare, if uncomfortable, luxury of time. Time with three men who picked up weapons to kill. Their stories are told without indulging any need to dramatise, validate or discredit their accounts. Nor does the film function as confessional, refusing to absolve them of responsibility for their actions. Instead, the scope of their discourse suggests there is much much more still to be said. Following recent screenings in the Lebanon, it is not surprising that some have taken Rugo and Weaver’s responsible record as an opportunity to start their own reconciliations.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- Find ABOUT A WAR (2018) on IMDb.
- Follow the film on Twitter @followingwires.
- We will be talking to Abi Weaver and Daniele Rugo about their film in Part Two soon.
ARTHOUSE CROUCH END
This was our first time attending a Q&A session at ArtHouse Crouch End and we can thoroughly recommend the venue if you haven’t been. All the things you need: friendly welcome, well-stocked bar, intelligent programming and an intimate auditorium with a good rake so you feel part of the action. We look forward to seeing you at their other Q&A events in the future.
And that’s the meat of it…
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UPDATE: Fighter’s name ‘Amine’ corrected to ‘Nassim’ (13 MAR 2019).
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