Information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1456477/
Samira (Petrovic), a teacher from Sarajevo moves into a new village as a replacement teacher. Suddenly, the town is infiltrated and its inhabitants are made prisoners of war and are sent to a camp.
As If I Am Not There is a perfectly-titled and deeply human film which looks at its central female character, Samira, not as a fictional construct that follows stage-directions and speaks dialogue but as an actual human being. Perhaps this is because of the script, or lack thereof. The film contains minimal dialogue, which is very fitting to its emotional effect. We become more astute to subtle noises in the film. The most uncomfortable being that of a table shaking and creaking whilst Samir is being raped with her head forced down onto the surface.
Following scenes of psychological and sexual abuse, our central character simply stares into the distance and tries to busy herself with something else. Due to this, she is, in a sense, a deeply relatable character – experiencing the most instinctual of emotions which we have all felt: fear, rebellion, submission, escape, anger and upset. Yet, she is also simultaneously ambiguous. Throughout we ask ourselves: what is she thinking? What lies behind that look in her eyes? Is her expression true or fake? Does she feel like she’ll ever get out? Can she even experience emotion? Does she have any friends or family? Her face is a puzzle in itself.
The film follows the narrative conventions firmly rooted in Arthouse cinema. There isn’t a plot as such, in the sense that characters don’t strive to get from A to B. Instead, there are lots of subtle events which follow on after the next – like life. The film’s main theme and idea is about human atrocity: the mass committing of sexual abuse against women in the Bosnian Civil War. The way in which the film deals with issues of rape is understated considering the amount of times it hints at or depicts it. The most memorable scene is the first time Samira is raped by three men, and then urinated on afterwards. Following this, the film presents sexual abuse by showing female characters enter the rooms looking down, and hardly able to walk. The film is more about the effects of sexual abuse than the sexual abuse itself.
This is probably because – in my own personal opinion – the scenes are underplayed. Women slowly get undressed, looking down. There is no sign of struggle. They bend over the desk and simply wait. Once it happens, they cry and there is intense uncomfort. They then go back to their room as if nothing had happened. The latter part is the point. Although the film does focus on the horrifying acts themselves, that isn’t its prior concern. It is concerned with the aftermath: how it leaves the women. Initially, frightened. But then eventually, they feel nothing, it is part of their day to day lives. Rape has become a routine – this is why the understatement is used.
Eventually, the rape has made our central character incapable of feeling. She is brought up by the captain. He is never rough, but instead, soft and gentle She is more unsettled by this as when she is touched, it is usually in violence as opposed to caring. She has now been so desensitised that she has become incapable of love.
Although the film is dark in content, it isn’t as dark in its style. It is more moving and powerful than it is disturbing or frightening. Yet, is this a weakness? For a film which concerns that of sexual abuse quite frequently, surely it should be less dampened down and more horrific? If the film wants to be honest, the rape scenes shouldn’t be unsettling, they should be fist-clenchingly terrifying. Should rape reallybe understated?
Powerful drama with an interesting central performance. The minimal dialogue and the overt suggestion makes an intriguing film which will slightly unsettle and move.