The word protected, the words embodied
Essay from the booklet:
This film was born out of the encounter with a man, Fara Bâ. He wanted to testify in order not to forget those who were political prisoners at the fort of Ouatala ten years before, for having opposed the racial segregation they suffered as black people. Many of his companions died there. It is the testimonies of these former prisoners, those who survived prison, which Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd is going to collect over a ten-year period, without any camera. When it became necessary to make a film out of this, upon the request of Fara Bâ, only the words mattered. The film was to be constructed on the narrative of these years of detention, a narrative co-written with the film-maker on the basis of the testimonies of the group of survivors. Fara Ba is their spokesperson. His voice is the one which tells and it overshadows that of the film-maker whose presence vanishes for the duration of a film. The starting point is this encounter and not an intention or vision of the film-maker. The necessity of tt1e film does not come from him at first. The images are claimed by the narrative, told by the man’s voice, “spokesvoice” for his companions.The film is almost ent11ely under lain by an effort to embody the words told: embody the arrest and its foreboding dream, the first period of detention, the transport toward Oualata, then the detention at tile fort, death, survival. In order to give a shape and a representation to these narratives, the film-maker inserts them in the places where the story took place, makes mostly still plans of these places, as they are today, as a focus for the eyes and attention. supported by a very strong presence of sounds. Those of today, too. Only the narratives are in the past tense. It is not an attempt to reconstruct but definitely to return, that is to say make this narrat1ve heard, unearthed from the places where it took place, and set these words free from their images, free to echo their own 1mages for each individual. Thus, the film-maker seeks to put the permanence of history to the test, by representing a trace left behind and once again by attempting not to let history run away, not to let it fall into oblivion. Firstly the words, then the images, in black and white, finally the sounds, so as to open new passages from one world to the other, from yesterday to today, from the dead to the living, from the others to oneself, from oblivion to memory.
In order to give a report of this political persecution and resist its oblivion, the film questions the history of places. The camera examines the streets, the roads, the sceneries, the fort haunted by that implacable, though invisible today, repression. Yet, the sounds increase the feeling emerging from these places steeped in history just like for the prisoners, the sounds are the conscience of the external world, “a life which had been lost”. One has to search and listen to a vibration, a signal from the past, in the image of the present. And what is visible in the images is the peacefulness of daily life where the worst indifference of all can be concealed. But, behind th1s seemingly peaceful daily life – the film-maker is aware of it – the worst threat of all, the harshest rep re ss1on of all, can hide. How to make it visible? How to report for it? This vibration from the past can only come from the inside, from the experience of this confinement and this killing, from the will to testify and the words to tell it.
All the decisions taken in Le Cercle des noyés seem to meet the imposed circumstances of Closed District. Whereas the filming in Sudan was set up in emergency, that in Mauritania stretched out over a decade. In the first film the film-maker does not understand what is said and will translate afterwards, for that one, the testimonies are in French and the text will then be translated in the Fulani language. In one film, the look precedes the listening, it is the other way round in the other. One precedes a massacre, the other comes after it and the two deal with the possibility and the responsibility of embodying the narrative of a struggle for life, to engrave it in history through the memory of a film.
Today, Oualata is a destination for some travellers attracted by its architecture and the decorations of its houses, and one can read on a web page praising its various attractions: “The lands of Oualata offer bits of history to its visitors, at every step they take.” The fort can even be visited, some suggest, as remains of French colonization. The film endeavours to make walls and stones reveal some truth, to unveil these hidden destinies behind these closed walls, since it is definitely the role of these places of confinement and of their walls to silence and to remove their detainees from the eyes of the outside, to take them away from the world. “As if, as a matter of fact, all this had never existed”, says Fara Bâ, to call up his encounters with his former torturers, years later, in everyday life. This is what the film fights against in its own way, in this quest by the film-maker for traces or for their very absence in a scenery, a location, a wall, a photograph. The film develops symmetrically to the breaking point, when the first prisoners die. Before the detention in Oualata, a first series of photographs introduces these men, staring at us. At first, silently, then the voice of Fara Bâ accompanies them. At the end of the film, photographs of these dead men reappear, this time haunted by the narrative of the ordeal they had to undergo. And Fara Bâ himself, when he appears, silent and still, staring at us, looking like these photographs, represents and embodies the destiny of these men who fought for their freedom and their survival. In the final shot, the vibration of his voice and his narrative inhabit this image which appears once again, in the long promised integrity of the words and bodies. This narrative, in which the memories and images of the dead are preserved by the filming, is a gesture handed back to the deceased of Closed District. This movement, this oscillation between oblivion and memory, disappearance and trace, between the dead and the living, this attempt to imagine these passages between two worlds, Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd’s following film, Les Dormants, was to put them to the test once more. This new journey is located at a new crossing in the film-maker’s progress, it completes a first series and announces further intertwinings. These dormants (sleepers), whose bodies lying on the ground bring to mind prophetic visions and awaken the shadows of the living, generate some sort of reconciliation between the images and their own traces, the alliance of a representation and a sensation. His cinema allows the return of a disappeared woman, under the layers of clothes of a scarecrow, in the blowing wind where his frantic love words echo from a posthumous letter.
It would come as no surprise to find out one day that Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd has a secret, a trivial and precious secret for being common to everyone. A mystery nestled deep inside the words. A secret whose existence he himself still ignores but which his cinema foresees, nestled deep inside the images.
Language:Fula, French, Hassanya
Subtitles:English burned in