Concerning Violence

Review by Sophie Monks Kaufman @sopharsogood

Directed by

Göran Hugo Olsson

Starring

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Kati Outinen Lauryn Hill

Anticipation.

Word is that this is an important film.

Enjoyment.

As enjoyable as racial prejudice and violence.

In Retrospect.

Upsetting in a way that frames upset as progress.

A timely and powerful exploration into the history of uprising in Africa as seen through the eyes of white liberals.

It’s not often that film reviewing is an overt political act. Concerning Violence has been released in the UK during the week that a white policeman was acquitted for shooting dead an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. Director Göran Olsson’s film is, most starkly, a controlled rage at racist oppression. Are we white reviewers to gripe about storytelling complexities? Are we to neuter the core issue with dispassionate objectivity?

The legacy of colonisation is still being fought amid fire and activism and violence. The most crucial, most timely thing that Concerning Violence does is force you to stare at racism in a way that is shocking if you are used to enjoying the privilege of an intellectual buffer zone between global issues and one’s own small orbit.

But what is it in practical terms? Concerning Violence is an essay film composed of nine examples of uprisings in Africa shot by guerilla Swedish filmmakers in the ’60s and ’70s. Looping over it all is a narrative plundered from a text by Frantz Fanon – a serious thinker and multi-professioned African-born Frenchman. The psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer died in the same year that The Wretched of the Earth was published.

The book’s anti-colonialist thesis explores the idea that violence is the only way for oppressed people to take back control. Fanon’s text and Olsson’s archival footage focus on black struggles but an introduction by Columbia professor, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, encourages women to make an imaginative leap and apply the philosophy to sexual equality.

Fanon’s precise academic language is read by the richly cadenced voice of former-Fugee Lauryn Hill and also flows intuitively in large print across screen for extra oomph. There is no way to evade the militancy of the message. There is no way to absent yourself from the scope of the film’s comment. Although the film focuses on specific struggles, especially the Algerian war for independence, its philosophical approach is broad, aggressive and personal: “The cause is the consequence. You are rich because you are white. You are white because you are rich.”

We are all folded in to the struggle. The footage is an incidental patchwork and the ideas about violence too extreme for this reviewer to adopt. And yet there is something primal and powerful that transcends the sum of its parts and speaks clearly of a wrong burrowed deep in our social DNA. Answers may be thin on the ground for a metropolitan liberal (hi) but that is because this film is an SOS at a point in world history that is not as advanced as many of us would like to think.

This is a film to make you evaluate your place in society, a film to discomfort you into sensitivity, a film devoid of the relief of humour, a film that – like the history of injustice – seems too big to process in a single brain. For this last reason it is to film to fuel public discussion.

Published 28 Nov 2014

Tags: Göran Hugo Olsson Lauryn Hill

Anticipation.

Word is that this is an important film.

Enjoyment.

As enjoyable as racial prejudice and violence.

In Retrospect.

Upsetting in a way that frames upset as progress.

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