Human Rights Watch Film Festival Begins Friday : Movies: ‘Liberators Take Liberties: War, Rape and Children'--a documentary on German women raped by Allied soldiers--opens the two-week event.
The UCLA Film and Television Archive’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival, intended not only to expand awareness of human rights issues but also to encourage filmmakers to address them, begins Friday. Helke Sander’s illuminating “Liberators Take Liberties: War, Rape and Children,” a far-reaching documentary on German women who were raped by Allied soldiers, principally--but by no means exclusively--Russian in nationality, is the opening attraction (7:30 p.m. in UCLA’s Melnitz Theater).
Best known for “Redupers,” which captured the psychological impact of living within the Berlin Wall, the German filmmaker reminds us that she might just as easily have gone to Kuwait or Yugoslavia for her study but says it’s easier to start at home.
Yet this film must surely have been a difficult undertaking, both emotionally and logistically. Nevertheless, Sander succeeded in locating a large number of women and in persuading them to tell their stories or those of their mothers, many of whom endured gang rape from the very men they regarded as liberators--and in some instances suffered further by being scorned by others, women especially.
Many of the rape victims underwent abortions, but Sander even talks to two women conceived in rape and how this fact has shaped their lives. Sander also went to Russia, where she found most men and women alike in their firm refusal to acknowledge that such rapes ever occurred--although, not surprisingly, she is told about German soldiers raping Russian women.
Her most unsettling encounter is with a bearded Russian artist, only 14 when he was sent off to war in Germany. He insists that German women deliberately pursued Russian soldiers in order to infect them with venereal diseases, which in turn allowed them to duck combat duty.
Sander, who throughout the film shows herself on camera, perhaps to make her subjects feel more at ease, admirably retains her composure in the face of such a bizarre assertion. (Note: The stated running time is 205 minutes but 2 hours and 5 minutes is more like it.)
Beatrice Michel Leutold and Hans Sturm’s beautiful but tragic “Upon My Eyes” (Sunday at 2 p.m.) opens with newsreel footage of Kurds dying from chemical warfare and zeros in on a photo of a dead Kurd clasping his small son, an image reprinted in the media around the world. The filmmakers, who are Swiss, go to a village in Iran, just over the border, discover the identity of this man and his child and hear, in a setting of idyllic natural beauty, terrible tales of genocide on the part of Saddam Hussein.
Suzanne Osten’s “Speak Up! It’s So Dark” (Sunday at 7:30 p.m.) finds a middle-aged Jewish psychiatrist (Etienne Glaser) confronted with a young neo-Nazi skinhead (Simon Norrthon), who dashes aboard a train to flee a brawl and takes a seat across from the doctor, who wants to treat his wounds but ends up grappling with his soul.
Quite possibly this virtual two-character drama, with its pair of equally formidable actors, began as a theater piece; in any event, Osten has created a highly effective film in which the psychiatrist and the skinhead’s stormy therapy sessions are framed by jagged glimpses into the skinhead’s rowdy, raging gang life. In attempting the Herculean task of reaching this young man so encased with a fear masked by anger and hate the psychiatrist recalls his own chaotic emotional state when as a child he and his mother arrived in Sweden by boat--his father and sister having ended up dying in Auschwitz. The skinhead denies that Auschwitz ever existed.
Denial is the abiding theme of Egon Humer’s “Guilt and Remembrance: Questions Put to Austrian National Socialists” (screening after “Speak Up!”), in which four nakedly unrepentant and virulently anti-Semitic old men, all of whom served postwar prison sentences, rave on and on about the glories of Hitler and the Third Reich--and refuse to believe any of its evil excesses. They are wearying, sadly familiar but also fascinating in a thoroughly repellent way.
Several films were not available for preview, and among them is “The Katyn Forest” (screening Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m.), directed by Poland’s great veteran director Andrzej Wajda and his friend Marcel Lozinski.
The festival concludes Oct. 14. Information: (310) 206-FILM, 206-8013.