by Marta Bałaga
- It’s a Woman’s Woman's Woman's World in Agnieszka Zwiefka’s portrayal of female Tamil Tigers. Or is it Tamil Tigresses?
Scheduled to celebrate its world premiere in the international competition of the One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, which has since gone online, Scars sees Polish director Agnieszka Zwiefka leaving her comfort – and time – zone in order to take a look at the reality of the now-retired female Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, most of whom were merely girls when they joined up. They are still forced to stay away from prying eyes, although their mutilated bodies already speak for themselves, betraying the past that, in the current political climate, can only get them into trouble.
And yet it’s a past they are certainly proud of – especially Vetrichelvi, one that Zwiefka is focusing on here. She is determined to keep on writing about their experiences or working on creating a refuge for the afflicted women, a place for them “to just be”. Frequently shown bursting into the kind of laughter one can’t help but join in with, she is an engaging presence, but there is a darker side to this sunny go-getter – as revealed by the testimony of another woman who was made a soldier by force, so young at the time that she ended up getting her first period on a battlefield. She was one of the many that Vetrichelvi actually “helped” to enlist.
But even without that additional layer, it’s an interesting take on the life of a fighter once the fight is over, yearning for the recognition she has been denied. Or just for someone to listen, as here comes the twist: for many of these women, the months or years spent with the Tigers were the best time of their lives. So good, in fact, that one of them can’t help but wish for it to come back, even (or especially) if it means leaving her family behind. “We were happy,” goes the general consensus, as they sit in their flowery dresses, recalling going to the training centre almost as cheerfully as they would remembering indulging in some teenage mischief. They’re equally eager to paint each other’s nails as they are to list, in great detail, all the hurt their bodies endured.
Zwiefka has a Kim Longinotto-ish gift of making it seem like, instead of interviewing people, she just sits down on the floor next to them, listening as they open up. That certainly works for this film, built out of stories shared with women, about other women. It may lack the razzle-dazzle of her previous The Queen of Silence [+see also:
film profile], with its bursts into Bollywood musical sequences, but she does recreate some snippets of memories with actors stuck in a black void, very much like the one that Scarlett Johansson used to dispose of the unsuspecting Scots in Under the Skin [+see also:
interview: Jonathan Glazer
film profile]. She shows that war is horror, that much is clear, but it can also give you control – something that all the Rosie the Riveters working in factories during World War II probably got to experience briefly as well.
Written by Agnieszka Zwiefka, Scars is a German-Polish co-production staged by Stefan Kloos, of Kloos & Co Ost Ug, Michaela Pnacekova and Agnieszka Zwiefka, for Chilli Productions. Its sales are handled by Rise and Shine World Sales.
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