By Pablo Gamba
Laura Huertas Millán’s Jeny303 and Shuruq Harb’s The White Elephant, (both part of the short film competition in Cinéma du Reel) are films realized by female artists and filmmakers, about identity political issues. In the first case, the film owes its existence to a malfunction of the 16mm camera used in the film. This is the kind of accidents that fascinated the surrealists, and the filmmaker chose to include the result.
In consequence, a fragment of the portrait of a transsexual was superposed with footage of the building 303 that the filmmaker shot in the Universidad Nacional, in Bogota, an emblematic work of modernity in her country. The building was inaugurated in 1966 and was used as headquarters of the Architecture Faculty, while also being a main site of political agitation. In 2014 it was demolished because of anti-seismic requisites and other structural defects that started to manifest, like cracks in the walls, throughout the 90’s.
This random encounter that kick started the short film could trigger a thought about the relationship of failure of the modernizing project with the life of the lead character, who in the first part –where one can see the building images- tells how he entered in the drug world, and in the second one, as a decoy of his partner thieving jobs, having as a visual counterpoint his masculine image. This fragmentation of the self seems to have some kind of link with the cracks of 303. That could be one of the possible rational answers of the accident.
The thing is that the casual superimposition, and the montage that Huertas Millán did because of it, draws attention also on the form, and from there on to something more general: the thing that one isn’t thinking when you go from one idea to another in one’s thought. With the Descartes chaînes de raisons, the collage or the encounter of an umbrella and a sawing machine in a dissection table are confrontable for example. Surrealism can be the hiding fundament of some rational thought about the real. This is something that this documentary deals with, and that’s it reminds us of Jean Rouch, because of the filmmaker’s work with the so called “ethnographic fiction”.
In The White Elephant the issue of identity is posed in relation to the Palestine nationality of the filmmaker, and the state that has invaded her territory and carries a politics of extermination of its habitants: Israel. One must write this phrase like this, because this is what’s happening in the Middle East, and Harb is skeptic in respect of the possibility of achieving peace. But the film also deals with the anti-colonialism struggle, the one who calls for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Israelites in order to secure the birth of the free Arab.
This short film is an essay made with images downloaded from the web, which relates two characters of fluctuating identity: the transsexual Israeli singer Dana International and the invisible narrator, a young Palestinian woman who speaks English and pretends to be a “Jewish girl” in Israel to be part of rave in the nineties, after Saddam Hussein lost the Gulf War, and when Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres signed the Oslo Accords.
“I’m trapped between the elephant and the dove”, the protagonist expresses, in reference to an image which is an allegory of the possibility of peace freeing her of a giant weight. This is an aspiration for a freedom that only seems to exist in enemy fields, and that allows an Israeli to change his body from male to female and applaud in European television the possibility of an agreement of his country with the “neighbors”; and soldiers confessing their fanatism for rave music, for example. The different contradictory faces of the “self” of this free people have an analogy, not only in the fragments of material found and used in the short film, but also in the parts used to make a car: a Palestinian can steal it in 60 seconds, the difficult thing is to take it to Ramala, the narrator says.
The White Elephant is a film about the anguish of not achieving the post-modern freedom, because the self is stuck between the diversity of possibilities that opens and a situation that keeps it tied to an identity centered in nationality, in order to make the nation survive. The problem is that, even if one can’t believe in this identity, this would mean to completely “disappear”, as the protagonist in the rave wishes she could, and this corresponds with what Israel is doing with the Palestinian people, no quotation marks.
Directed and produced by: Laura Huertas Millán
The White Elephant
Directed and produced by: Shuruq Harb