Beneath The Blindfold


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Beneath The Blindfold
"It's a testament to the bravery of the participants in this film that they have been willing to face their suffering again in order to communicate the scale of the problem."

Torture is one of those subjects that tends to be talked about often in political terms but very rarely in personal ones. There's an obvious reason for that, with even those who feel able to tell people they've been tortured struggling to articulate the details, given the memories this can bring back. It's a testament to the bravery of the participants in this film that they have been willing to face their suffering again in order to communicate the scale of the problem.

There are victims here from a variety of countries, some tortured by rebel military factions, some by their own states. One was a captured child soldier; one was arrested after whistleblowing; another was apparently seized just because of her ethnicity. What is striking about this diverse collection of people is the similarity of their experiences - not in terms of the torture itself, but in terms of its lasting effects.

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That torture does long term damage is the primary point this film is trying to make. There's a myth, it's argued, that being tortured involved being hurt or scared for a few hours and then being back to normal the next day. In fact, those telling their stories here report flashbacks, panic attacks, sleep disruption, rage and fearfulness years after the fact. Research tells us that many of them will never fully recover - at least when it comes to issues of trust and the ability to see the world in a positive light. The most difficult task for the filmmakers here is getting that point across yet still showing that there can be some hope, so those personally affected do not give up. It carries this off remarkably well, though watching it will be a harrowing experience for anyone.

With its focus on long term issues, the film looks at coping methods, some of which will also be useful to survivors of other kinds of trauma. One woman has a stuffed dog called Chocolate whom she talks to when she can't cope with speaking to anyone else, one man has turned his experiences into plays, and there's a look of secret delight on his face when his daughter tells him she doesn't understand them. Others go to a support group where they can simply enjoy normal social activities in the company of people who get it, so they don't need to perform, to pretend everything is okay. Given this freedom, most of them look considerably happier and more at ease.

Providing only a loose outline of the politics and focusing on the human experience, Beneath The Blindfold makes a good antidote to popular TV and film fiction which, as it points out, frequently condones torture and perpetuates torture myths. There is no expectation here that torture will ever go away, but perhaps there is hope that we can better understand and assist those who survive it.

Reviewed on: 05 Sep 2014
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A documentary focusing on the enduring physical and psychological effects of torture.

Director: Kathy Berger, Ines Sommer

Year: 2012

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US



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