Sunday, 24 October 2010

War, History and Angelina Jolie.

“Listen, don't mention the war!” Basil Fawlty famously cautioned, “I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right.” He was mocking British attitudes to World War II and Germans but it seems Angelina Jolie could learn from his advice. In a week that's seen her permission to film in Bosnia revoked and restored again I found her grabbing headline space in this morning's Observer online: The star's debut as a director has sparked fierce controversy over who has the right to tell the story of Serbian rape camps. Fact and fiction make uncomfortable bedfellows where people still feel the pain of the recent past. Her crime, according to her accusers, is telling other people's war stories through the Hollywood lens.


Last week we were told stories of bullets flying through cars carrying humanitarian aid into the then war-torn, barely-born Bosnia and Herzegovina. The information was volunteered and by people who were actually there. It was their story to tell. In the two years since we've lived here we've picked up bits and pieces of people's past but we've been careful not to pry. We're not investigative journalists, nor are we trying to make a movie; we want to help young people here have hope for their future. The fighting officially finished fifteen years ago. Some people we've met have clearly moved on, others obviously haven't and with others the war is the elephant in the room.


I once mentioned to a friend here that as a teenager I had briefly toyed with the Army Cadets. We learned outdated drills and how to strip and clean a First World War rifle blindfolded. I've needed neither skill subsequently, although the ability to distinguish between a live round and a spent one did come in useful once in the twenty years since. As soon as I'd started telling my tale I realised at the same age, when I was playing war games, my friend was learning the grim realities of the real thing. You can't compare the two. It makes you think.


But back to Angelina and her movie. I see the arguments against it but I'm equally aware that there will be a point the tragic chapter of the early nineties has to become history. History happens when the chapter is closed, but no line has been drawn under some of the suffering she seeks to portray. People don't want her playing with their present reality.


If history is written by the winning side, from an English perspective, it's then rewritten by the Americans for a movie. Movies that win hearts and Oscars! Whether Jolie achieves this kind of success with her directorial debut remains to be seen. She has to finish it first. Painful though it is, I've a feeling the country can benefit from the attention the film is generating. In all the controversy surrounding the scripting and shooting my hope is that it's causing a few people to think seriously about ways to heal the hurts it has highlighted.

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