Easily Forgotten? Dealing With The Past

After Silence (Après le silence - ce qui n’est pas dit n’existe pas?), by Vanina Vignal, France/Romania, 2012 - Paris, March 22, 2012.

Twenty years after the fall of Nicolae Ceaucescu’s regime - one of Europe’s most ruthlessly repressive dictatorships - how are Romanians dealing with their individual and collective memories of this profoundly traumatic past? For Rodica, Ioana and Teona, three generations of the same family living in Bucarest today, the strategy has always been the same one that the family used to survive the dictatorship: silence.

In “After Silence”, film director Vanina Vignal undertakes to break the silence transmitted from generation to generation in the family of her old friend Ioana. Through intimate and patient exchanges with the three characters, she reveals long-established obstacles to remembering: how do you disclose individual stories in a society where silence and secret were a part of growing up? How do you summon memories when you have developed automatic mechanisms to close down brain activity when exposed to the ideological propaganda of the past? Why would there be any urgency to talk about a brutal political system that had become a permanent, normal, banal reality?

With a camera and a communist-era dictionary, Vignal takes the family members through a cathartic exercise that finally breaks decades of silence and lays bare the common pattern that fuels dictatorial systems. The individual’s voluntary retreat into apolitical apathy for the sake of mere survival - a strategy that survives revolutions and regime changes, and which highlights the very function of the politics of memory.

The time spent with Rodica, Ioana and Teona is full of lessons for today’s world. From Spain, where Judge Garzon’s endeavours to investigate Franco regime’s mass human right violations have ignited heated controversies, to post-revolutionary Arab societies where tomorrow’s political systems will depend on the way they handle remembrance efforts, taking the time to understand the mechanics of individual and collective memory in specific contexts plays a vital function in supporting the emergence of resilient and peaceful societies.

Frederique Guerin, Special Correspondent, The Global Journal.


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