Anyone who wishes to gaze into the depths of the human lust for destruction should be aware that it is necessary to maintain a distance towards it. In investigating such unimaginable horror, Selma Doborac’s De Facto avails itself of two basic concepts: abstraction and minimalism. It thereby becomes possible to render the unutterable – cast in the form of statements of oppressive detachment – utterable, without making it comprehensible, abused for temporary thrills and thus ‘normalised’. The harm that we inflict upon one another is starkly portrayed here.
In an open, sparse, and initially indeterminable setting, two actors, Christoph Bach and Cornelius Obonya, neatly separated from each other by means of the montage, are seated at a table, in the surface of which their images are reflected like their own doubles; two men who make their submissions in the course of three long monologues each, spoken alternately and quickly, narrated respectively in the first person and the second person, as if they were answering an interviewer (who is absent in the visual and audio frame). They are archetypes rather than film characters, their words do not present or clearly represent anybody. They are the confessions of perpetrators, texts of legitimation, memories of routinely carried out massacres, acts of torture, executions and sexualised violence, deriving from the real testimonies of those who once helped to organise mass extermination and genocide: a nihilistic philosophy of the all-too-humanness of the inhumane.
Through the staccato of its information, De Facto leads us to the limits of our receptivity. With an icy coldness and calmness of mind, the protagonists explain the unavoidability of their actions, they speak of “unusable” bodies, of their own “ethos” and their struggle for discipline and purity. The director makes seven cuts in 130 minutes, no more than that. What is quoted remains without any reference to sources. The omission of background information on the horror described thus leads us out of history and directly into the present. (Stefan Grissemann)
Translation into English: Peter Waugh
De Facto. 73. Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin, 53. Berlinale Forum. Katalogtext.
Für ihren zweiten Langfilm hat sich die Regisseurin Selma Doborac einer schwierigen Frage zugewandt: Wie kann sich das Kino mit Täterschaft, extremer Gewalt, Staatsterror und Zeugenschaft davon auseinandersetzen, ohne damit gemeinsame Sache zu machen?
Den Weg direkter Repräsentation verwirft De Facto. Auch von einem Reenactment, bei dem echte Täter ihre Verbrechen vor laufender Kamera reproduzieren, will der Film nichts wissen. Stattdessen arbeitet die Regisseurin mit zwei Schauspielern, Christoph Bach und Cornelius Obonya, setzt sie in einen Pavillon in einem Park an einen Tisch, den der Künstler Heimo Zobernig entworfen hat, und lässt sie, isoliert voneinander, in langen, präzisen Einstellungen Texte sprechen, deren Adressaten man hors champ vermuten kann. Passagen aus Gerichtsurteilen, Täterberichte, Zeugenaussagen, Bekenntnisse von Whistleblowern, bisweilen auch philosophische Texte sind ineinander verwoben. Immer wieder ist es kaum auszuhalten zuzuhören. De Facto ist ohne Frage eine Herausforderung für die Zuschauer*innen – allerdings keine, die ihren Zweck in sich selbst hätte, sondern eine, die, indem sie einem analytischen Interesse folgt, Möglichkeiten der Erkenntnis schafft. (Cristina Nord)
De Facto. 73. Berlin International Film Festival, 53. Berlinale Forum. Catalogue text.
For her second feature-length film, director Selma Doborac turns her attention to a difficult question: How can cinema grapple with perpetrators, extreme violence, state terror and testimonies relating to these without conniving with them?
De Facto rejects direct representation to this end; nor is it remotely interested in re-enactment, whereby real perpetrators reproduce their crimes in front of the camera. Instead, the director works with two actors, Christoph Bach and Cornelius Obonya, places them in a pavilion in a park at a table designed by artist Heimo Zobernig and has them deliver texts in long, precisely composed shots and in isolation from one another, the out-of-frame addressees of which can be inferred. Passages from verdict statements, perpetrator statements, witness testimonies, confessions by whistleblowers and the occasional philosophical text are woven together. At times, it is almost unbearable to listen to. De Facto is undoubtedly challenging for viewers, but not as an end in itself; by pursuing an analytical interest, it creates possibilities for insight. (Cristina Nord)
De Facto. 73. Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin, 53. Berlinale Forum. Caligari Filmpreis 2023. Statement der Jury. (Award)
In einem minimalistisch-kühlen Setting treten zwei Charaktere auf. Ihre verbalen Ausführungen bilden eine drastische Rede, die sich an ein unsichtbar und stumm bleibendes Gegenüber richtet. Vom ersten ausgesprochenen Satz an entwickelt sich daraus ein Sog in die schwer aushaltbare Realität menschlicher Grausamkeit. Die beiden Männer waren maßgeblich an Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit beteiligt und legen jetzt ungehemmt Rechenschaft über ihr Handeln und dessen Beweggründe ab. In die unheimliche Alltäglichkeit ihrer Formulierungen mischen sich immer wieder Begriffe, die einen Horizont von historischen Referenzen eröffnen. DE FACTO präsentiert nicht einfach zwei Täter, sondern bietet eine szenische Reflexion über Täterschaft und die sozialpsychologischen Dimensionen von Massengewalt. Die Dramatis personae sind keine Individuen sondern zu lesende Kunstfiguren, geformt aus einer Vielzahl verdichteter und ineinander verwebter Zeugnisse dokumentierter genozidaler Verbrechen. Mit unglaublicher Wucht macht der Film nur durch das gesprochene Wort und seine Verkörperung das Nachleben der Gewalt ebenso erfahrbar wie ihre bedrohliche Aktualität. Selma Doborac ist ein außergewöhnlicher und hochintensiver Film gelungen, der wie kaum ein anderer zuvor zerstörerische (Gruppen-)Dynamiken und das Inhumane im Menschen auch philosophisch zu denken gibt. DE FACTO interveniert in unsere Tendenz, die unangenehme aber notwendige Auseinandersetzung mit Massengewalt zu verdrängen. Er ermöglicht eine neue Form künstlerischer Zeugenschaft, die auch unseren Glauben an Gerechtigkeit herausfordert. (Silvia Bahl)
Mitglieder der Jury: Borjana Gaković (Sinema Transtopia Berlin), Janna Schmidt (CITY 46, Kommunalkino Bremen e.V.), Silvia Bahl (filmdienst.de, Medienpartner)
De Facto. 73. Berlin International Film Festival, 53. Berlinale Forum. Caligari Film Award 2023. Jury Statement. (Award)
Two characters appear in a minimalist, chilly setting. Their verbal remarks form a drastic speech directed at a counterpart who remains invisible and mute. From the first uttered sentence, a maelstrom develops into the hard-to-bear reality of human cruelty. The two men were significantly involved in crimes against humanity and now give an uninhibited account of their actions and their motives. The uncanny ordinariness of their formulations is repeatedly intermingled with terms that open up a horizon of historical references. DE FACTO does not simply present two perpetrators, but offers a scenic reflection on perpetration and the socio-psychological dimensions of mass violence. The dramatis personae are not individuals but art figures to be read, formed from a multitude of condensed and interwoven testimonies of documented genocidal crimes. With incredible force, the film makes the afterlife of violence as tangible as its threatening topicality only through the spoken word and its embodiment. Selma Doborac has succeeded in making an extraordinary and highly intense film that, like hardly any other before it, makes us think philosophically about destructive (group) dynamics and the inhuman in human beings. DE FACTO intervenes in our tendency to repress the unpleasant but necessary confrontation with mass violence. It enables a new form of artistic witnessing that also challenges our belief in justice. (Silvia Bahl)
Members of the Jury: Borjana Gaković (Sinema Transtopia Berlin), Janna Schmidt (CITY 46, Municipal Cinema Bremen e.V.) and Silvia Bahl (filmdienst.de, media partner)
„De Facto“ gewinnt den 38. Caligari-Filmpreis. Das dokumentarische Essay „De Facto“ von Selma Doborac wird als herausragender Beitrag des Berlinale-Forums geehrt. Preismeldung, Filmdienst.de
Der Film De Facto von der österreichischen Filmemacherin Selma Doborac gewinnt den 38. Caligari-Filmpreis. Damit wählte die Jury aus den 28 Beiträgen des Berlinale-Forums eine szenische Reflexion von Täterschaft aus, die in einer textuellen Verflechtung von Gerichtsprotokollen, Überlebendenzeugnissen und philosophischen Theorien sowie deren eindringlicher Verkörperung durch zwei Schauspieler mit formaler Klarheit und hoher Intensität tief beeindruckt.
Die Schauspieler Christoph Bach und Cornelius Obonya präsentieren sich als zwei Archetypen von Tätern, die an schweren Verbrechen von Massengewalt beteiligt waren. Sie offenbaren die Beweggründe ihrer Handlungen einem Gegenüber, das den ganzen Film über stumm im Off der Kamera verbleibt. Die vielfältigen historischen Referenzen, die in ihrer Rede aufscheinen, treten in Spannung zu zeitgenössischen Formen der Alltagssprache.
Durch diese historische Entsituierung entsteht ein Reflexionsraum, der universelle Dynamiken der Gewalt ebenso zu denken gibt wie die unheimliche Möglichkeit ihrer Wiederkehr und Aktualität. Gerichtsprotokolle aus verschiedenen Kontexten, Überlebendenzeugnisse und philosophische Theorien verflechten sich auf komplexe Weise im zugrunde liegenden Text miteinander. Bei seiner Aneignung durch die Akteure tritt deren schauspielerische Intention bewusst gegenüber einer reinen Konzentration auf die Kraft der Worte und die Effekte ihrer Verkörperung durch das Sprechen zurück.
Selma Doborac gelingt damit eine außergewöhnliche szenische Reflexion von Täterschaft im Kontext von Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit, die zudem Möglichkeiten und Grenzen des Dokumentarischen neu auslotet, so die Jury, die 2023 den „Caligari“-Filmpreis für einen herausragenden Beitrag des Internationalen Forums des Jungen Films im Rahmen der Berlinale vergibt. Ein mutiger und eindrücklicher Film, der Diskussionen mit dem Publikum anstößt und Reflexionen der (eigenen) Geschichte anregt.
(Filmdienst.de, 2. März 2023)
Nichts ungeheuerer als der Mensch: Der Caligari-Preisträgerfilm De Facto. Essay von Silvia Bahl.
Der Caligari-Filmpreis für einen herausfordernden Beitrag aus dem Forums-Programm der Berlinale hat 2023 einen würdigen Preisträger gefunden: De Facto von Selma Doborac. Darin geht es mit großer dokumentarischer Strenge um ein tieferes Verständnis individueller wie kollektiver Gewaltverbrechen. Annäherungen an einen konzeptionell kühnen Film, der neue Möglichkeiten im Umgang mit historischem Material eröffnet.
Ein jüngerer Mann (Christoph Bach) sitzt der Kamera gegenüber an einem Tisch. Erwartungen an eine Standardsituation des Dokumentarischen, das Interview, stellen sich unwillkürlich ein und werden vom ersten Satz an, den der Protagonist spricht, irritiert. Das Gespräch scheint dem Inhalt nach schon längst im Gange zu sein, der Zuschauer zu spät zu kommen und die Vorstellung des filmischen Gegenübers verpasst zu haben. Durch die fehlende diskursive Rahmung treffen die geäußerten Worte des Mannes in ihrer unmittelbaren Kraft umso härter. In einer schnellen, unablässigen Rede schildert er, das wird schnell klar, seine eigene Beteiligung an schweren Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit. Vielfältige historische Referenzen tauchen auf, einige lassen sich deutlicher kontextualisieren. Dass der am Tisch sitzende Protagonist durchaus Verständnis habe aufbringen können, wie er sagt, wenn die ihm damals unterstellten Häftlinge keine Lust mehr verspürten, mit ihm, dem Peiniger, Fußball zu spielen, wenn sie kurz zuvor erst soweit malträtiert wurden, dass sie in ihrem eigenen Kot liegen blieben. Die Worte seiner Rede sind drastisch und erzeugen doch beim aufmerksamen Zuhören sofort eine Spannung: Auch wenn man noch nie davon gehört haben sollte, dass im Vernichtungslager Auschwitz-Birkenau Ballspiele der Häftlinge toleriert (und instrumentalisiert) wurden  – spätestens wenn der Protagonist von ihnen als „Stücken“  spricht, wird deutlich, dass es beim filmischen Setting von De Facto nicht um eine Repräsentation von einzelnen Tätern, sondern eine szenische Reflexion von Täterschaft in einem anthropologischen Sinne geht.
Quer zur historischen Situierung
In die Rede mischen sich beiläufige Anglizismen wie „What goes around comes around“ und andere Elemente zeitgenössischer Alltagssprache. Ihre unheimliche Gegenwärtigkeit irritiert das sich beim Zuschauen vielleicht einstellende Bemühen einer historischen Situierung zusätzlich. Noch augenfälliger erscheint beim längeren Zuhören ein Meta-Diskurs, den der Protagonist anstimmt, wenn er sich bei seinen Ausführungen auch auf literarische wie protokollarische Zeugnisse von Überlebenden bezieht und damit seine Fixierung in einer historischen, individuierten Rolle weiter unmöglich macht. Auch wenn sich die Rede sprachlich an ein Gegenüber richtet, bleibt dieses den ganzen Film über unsichtbar und stumm.
Die identitätspolitische Frage des „Wer spricht?“ wird in De Facto von Beginn an aus gutem Grund unterlaufen. Denn es sind gerade die scheinbar klaren Positionierungen, die in Bezug auf politische Gewalt eine falsche Sicherheit versprechen. In jahrelanger Recherche hat die Regisseurin Selma Doborac unterschiedlichste Quellen studiert, darunter Gerichtsprotokolle aus Den Haag, Zeugenaussagen und Täterberichte aus einer Vielzahl geschichtlicher Kontexte. An ihnen zeigen sich universelle Dynamiken von Gewalt, die über das Historisch-Spezifische der Verbrechen hinausgehen. Sich mit ihnen zu konfrontieren, verunsichert moralische Gewissheiten und Distanzierungen, weil die beunruhigende Möglichkeit ihrer Wiederkehr ins Bewusstsein rückt. Zugleich wird dadurch aber erst eine tiefgreifende analytische Reflexion möglich, die der Unmenschlichkeit etwas entgegensetzen kann.
Form und Abstraktion
De Facto stellt sich dieser Herausforderung durch eine Konzentration auf die künstlerische Form, die von Beginn an durch die klare Inszenierung des Settings gesetzt wird. Der am Tisch sitzende Protagonist befindet sich in einem kühl stilisierten Raum, dessen Abstraktionscharakter sofort an der entschiedenen Komposition des filmischen Bildes deutlich wird. Die Architektur des Gebäudes wird in ihrer Gänze erst in der letzten Einstellung von außen als solche erkenn- und befragbar. Ihre symbolische Konnotation ist zunächst weniger wichtig als ihre konkrete Gestaltung durch große, fensterlose Öffnungen, die im Hintergrund des Protagonisten sichtbar und hörbar einen Blick in ein Außen voller rauschender Bäume ermöglichen.
Die Statik des Innenraums tritt in Spannung zur Erfahrung der Dauer, die sich in Echtzeit durch Blätterbewegungen, Donnergrollen und das langsame Verschwinden des Tageslichtes entfaltet. Auch der dreibeinige Tisch, der den gesamten Film über Angelpunkt des Bildes bleibt, ist vor allem anderen eine kraftvolle formale Setzung. Neben den vielfältigen Assoziationen, die sich durch die Spiegelungen in seiner dunklen Oberfläche ergeben, schafft er zunächst eine Aufmerksamkeit für den künstlerischen Formwillen der Szene und ihre räumliche Kondensation. Aus ihr vermittelt sich beim Zusehen immer wieder ein Gefühl von Irritation, das durch die drei Tischbeine zwischen monumentaler Statik und Instabilität schwankt. Wenn der Protagonist manchmal eines seiner Beine hinter dem anderen verschränkt und damit optisch verschwinden lässt, verdoppelt sich dieser Eindruck unwillkürlich.
Auch die Folge der Auf- und Abblendungen ist streng formalisiert. Nach einer langen Einstellung ohne Schnitte auf den erzählenden Protagonisten wird ihm nach einer Schwarzblende ein zweiter gegenübergestellt. Der ältere Mann (Cornelius Obonya) sitzt am selben Tisch, im selben Raum und doch in unterschiedlicher Anordnung. Während Protagonist 1 stets in der Ich-Form spricht, verwendet Protagonist 2 in seiner Rede das doppeldeutige „Du“. Es lässt sich als eine Art des inneren Monologs verstehen, der eine zweifelhafte Selbstdistanzierung von den eigenen Taten ermöglicht. Zugleich bleibt das Pronomen in seiner inhärenten Eigenschaft der Ansprache offen für eine Mitadressierung des Zuschauers. Während der jüngere Mann eher Dimensionen eines unmittelbar agierenden Soldaten verkörpert, vereint der ältere eher Facetten eines höheren militärischen Strategen und Kommandanten, der unter anderem über seine gelegentlichen Besuche der Lager sinniert. Beide sind unauffällig und in zivil gekleidet, in einer Weise, die nur geringfügige Rückschlüsse auf den habituellen Hintergrund zulässt. Ihre szenischen Auftritte folgen einer präzisen, zeitlich genau gleich bemessenen Abfolge nach dem Schema A/B.
Rationalisierung und Souveränität
Was in der filmischen Gegenüberstellung als Gemeinsamkeit aufscheint, ist eine ambivalente Praxis der Rationalisierung des eigenen Verhältnisses zur Tat. Beide Figuren grenzen sich negativ von den sogenannten „Perversen“ und „Schlächtern“ ab, die in den Gräueltaten eine ekstatische Entgrenzung gesucht haben. Sie schildern ihre Verachtung gegenüber dem enthemmten sadistischen Genießen, das mit Vermischung, Unreinheit und langfristigem Kontrollverlust einhergeht. Damit präsentieren sie sich als Akteure, die im Gegensatz zu ihren bestialischen Kollegen in ihrer Sachlichkeit und sprachlichen Eloquenz noch ein Gegenüber darstellen können. Beide sind in der unbestimmten Situation ihres Erzählens bereits Teil einer gerichtlichen Aufarbeitung der eigenen Verbrechen, stellen sich der neuen Gesellschaftsordnung nach der Katastrophe bereitwillig als Kooperateure und Kronzeugen zur Verfügung.
Sie nutzen die freie Gesprächssituation, um abseits der streng geregelten, an Fakten und Beweisen orientierten Ordnung des Gerichts von ihren tieferen Beweggründen zu berichten. Ihre Bereitschaft zur Verantwortung entlarvt sich dabei schon bald als eine weitere Form der gewaltvollen Souveränitätsanmaßung, wenn sie sich auf perfide Weise in ihre Opfer hineindenken und sich ihrer Zeugnisse sprachlich bemächtigen. Somit kommt eine tieferliegende Problematik der Gewalt ans Licht, die fast noch mehr beunruhigt als die der besinnungslosen Schlächter: Das Vermögen von Tätern, sich auf instrumentelle Weise in die Opfer einzufühlen und sie dadurch nicht nur körperlich, sondern auch seelisch zu negieren und auszulöschen. Die psychologisch genau kalkulierten Folterungen in Abu Ghraib und das Wissen um die „erlernte Hilflosigkeit“ sind nur ein Beispiel für einen pervertierten, zweckrationalen Empathie-Begriff.
Dynamiken der Inhumanisierung
Im letzten Teil des Films öffnet sich die Rede der Protagonisten daraufhin zusätzlich für die philosophische Ideengeschichte der Vernunft und ihr anderes, das die Psychoanalyse Trieb und Unbewusstes nennt. Während Protagonist 1 vermehrt über die Grenzen des juristischen Diskurses und des in ihm Sagbaren spricht und er damit implizit die Sprachlosigkeit und psychische Überwältigung der Opfer verhöhnt, sinniert Protagonist 2 über die Schönheit einer vermeintlich naturgegebenen Vernunft, die ihm als kreatürliche Rechtfertigung einer mörderischen, völkischen Idee dient. Unwillkürlich kommen die Thesen von Horkheimer und Adorno mit ihrer „Dialektik der Aufklärung“ in den Sinn. Die Ratio als zentrale Figur des abendländischen Denkens wird zerstörerisch in dem Moment, wo sie ihr anderes gewaltsam ausschließt, das Selbst-Identische gegen die Alterität setzt, mit dem Anspruch sich zu totalisieren. Der Weg vom Unterlassen des Grußes auf der Straße bis hin zur Deportation des Anderen in ein Lager ist sehr viel kürzer als vermutet, gibt Protagonist 2 zu denken.
Ein roter Faden, der De Facto inhaltlich durchzieht, ist die Untersuchung genau dieser schleichenden Vorgänge der Entmenschlichung des Anderen. Sie können sich in extremer Weise auch im familiären Setting vollziehen, wie beim Fall von Natascha Kampusch, auf den die Rede des zweiten Protagonisten offensichtlich kurz Bezug nimmt. Im größeren sozialen Zusammenhang sind es vor allem ansteckende Gruppendynamiken, die zum „Othering“  sowie einem Freund-Feind-Schema führen und eine Spirale der enthemmten Affekte gegen die zukünftigen Opfer in Gang setzen.
Beide Protagonisten des Films korrespondieren miteinander auch dahingehend, dass der jüngere sich immer wieder auf einen Diskurs bezieht, den der ältere im Sinne einer Ideologie lange vorbereitet hat. „Das wurde uns so gesagt“ oder „Das macht man eben so“ meint hier nicht nur das Befolgen von Befehlen, auf das sich Täter bei ihren Rechtfertigungen oft beziehen, sondern auch bestimmte Praktiken, wie das Verwenden von Tiernamen oder die Verweigerung des Mitgefühls. Auch die verbreitete Tendenz, sich selbst als eigentliches Opfer der Tat darzustellen, die somit als notwendige Pflicht oder Bürde mit Pathos aufgeladen werden kann, nimmt De Facto analytisch in den Blick. Hier wird eine besondere Form der Obszönität von Täterschaft rhetorisch als rationalisierende Verdrehung und Entlastung anschaulich.
Vom ersten Augenblick an entwickelt De Facto durch die Genauigkeit und Komplexität des geschriebenen Textes eine Sogwirkung, die sich immer mehr auf eine Denkbewegung hin öffnet. Paralysierende Momente der Schilderungen von genozidalen Verbrechen werden immer wieder von historischen und philosophischen Referenzen unterbrochen, wodurch die Rede ihre eigene Reflexion anstößt. Wenn einmal von einem Radiosender zu hören ist, der Autokennzeichen von zu tötenden „Kakerlaken“ durchgibt, dann erkennt der Zuschauer, auch durch die Bekanntheit von Arbeiten Milo Raus wie „Hate Radio“ , den konkreten Bezug auf dokumentierte Taten während des Völkermordes in Ruanda.
Zwischen Text und Subjekt
Zugleich geht Selma Doborac in der Reflexion von Täterschaft noch viel weiter als Rau es beispielsweise in einer szenischen Lesung von „Breiviks Erklärung“  versucht hat. Es geht nicht nur darum, die dokumentierten Äußerungen von Tätern als Diskurs ernst zunehmen und durch eine Verschiebung in den ästhetischen Kontext zu denken zu geben, sondern um eine doppelte Reflexionsbewegung: Die der Rede durch ihre intertextuelle Einbettung sowie ihrer szenischen Verkörperung durch die beiden Schauspieler. Die beeindruckende Intensität, die Christoph Bach und Cornelius Obonya entwickeln, stellt sich gerade nicht durch ein identifizierendes Spiel her, das sich im Sinne des Method-Acting in einen bestimmten Täter hineindenken würde, sondern durch die prekäre Balance zwischen der szenischen Aneignung des gesprochenen Wortes und einer Rücknahme der schauspielerischen Intention. Dadurch entsteht eine desubjektivierte Form der Sprache, in der das individuelle Bewusstsein sich im Sinne des psychoanalytischen Durcharbeitens für die physische Kraft des Textes öffnet. Auch die Versprecher, die sich in den verschiedenen One-Takes manchmal ereignen, werden in diesem Sinne nicht als Fehler eliminiert, sondern als Manifestation einer unbewussten Reaktionsbildung auf den Text verstanden. Dabei wird auch deutlich, dass ein solches Sprechen von historischen Fragmenten an die eigene, transgenerational vermittelte historische Erfahrung anknüpfen und damit einen eigenen Evidenzcharakter annehmen kann. Das Dokumentarische des Quellenmaterials tritt im künstlerischen Prozess wieder (oder vielleicht auch das erste Mal) in Resonanz mit dem Körpergedächtnis.
Wenn Hegels Begriff des zu sich selbst kommenden „Weltgeistes“ oder Heideggers „Seinsgeschick“ Teil der Rede werden, dann rufen sie Diskurse einer idealistischen Philosophie ebenso auf wie die Kritik der Totalität von Emmanuel Levinas . Die Instrumentalisierung des Lebens durch die von Foucault beschriebene Biopolitik tritt in einen Dialog mit einer Kritik einer technokratischen „Enteignung des Todes“ . Allerdings sind weder die historischen noch die philosophischen Diskurse in De Facto als indexikalisches Referenzsystem gedacht, daher werden die Quellen im Abspann bewusst nicht genannt. Sie sind eher Komponenten eines vielschichtigen Resonanzraumes. Auch das ist im Sinne der Form des Films konsequent, denn es geht weder für die Schauspieler noch für die Zuschauer um eine Beherrschbarkeit der Rede, welche die „mittlere“ Position zwischen Text und Subjekt zugunsten einer distanzierenden Gegenüberstellung auflösen würde. Das hat, in Bezug auf die Durcharbeitung von Gewalt, auch eine ethische Komponente, in der eine Öffnung gegenüber dem oft Abgewehrten, Furchteinflößenden entstehen kann.
Selma Doborac gelingt gemeinsam mit ihren Akteuren eine ebenso außergewöhnliche wie eindringliche Weiterentwicklung der Möglichkeiten künstlerischer Zeugenschaft und der Arbeit mit dokumentarischem Material.
(Silvia Bahl, Filmdienst.de, 11. März 2023)
Nothing More Monstrous than Man: The Caligari Prize-Winning Film De Facto. Essay
The Caligari Film Prize for a challenging contribution presented at the Forum programme of the 2023 Berlinale has found a worthy winner: De Facto by Selma Doborac. With great documentary rigour, it strives to achieve a deeper understanding of individual and collective violent crimes, approximating a conceptually bold film that opens up new possibilities in dealing with historical material.
A youngish man (Christoph Bach) is seated opposite the camera at a table. Instinctively, expectations arise of a standard documentary situation, the interview, yet these are frustrated with the first sentence that the protagonist speaks. Judging from the content, it seems as if the conversation is already underway, that the viewer has arrived too late and missed their cinematic counterpart’s introduction. Due to the lack of discursive framing, the words spoken by the man hit home all the harder in the force of their directness. From his rapid, incessant speech it soon becomes clear that he is describing his own involvement in grave crimes against humanity. Multiple historical references emerge, some of which can be contextualised quite concretely. The fact that the protagonist sitting at the table might well have understood, as he claims, that the prisoners in his charge at the time no longer felt like playing football with him, their tormentor, when they had just been maltreated to the point of being forced to lie in their own excrement. The words he speaks are drastic and yet immediately create a sense of tension in attentive listeners: even if one had never heard that prisoners’ ball games were tolerated (and instrumentalised) at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp , it becomes clear – at the latest when the protagonist speaks of the prisoners as “bits”  – that what is cinematically presented in De Facto is not a depiction of individual perpetrators, but rather a dramatic reflection on perpetration in an anthropological sense.
Transcending Historical Location
Casual Anglicisms such as “What goes around comes around” and other elements of contemporary everyday language are mixed into the speech. Their uncanny topicality further frustrates any effort on the part of the viewer to locate events historically. As one listens longer, it becomes increasingly evident that a meta-discourse is going on, initiated by the protagonist when he refers in his remarks to the literary or officially recorded testimonies of survivors, thereby making it all the more impossible to pinpoint a historical, individuated role. Even though the speech is linguistically addressed to a counterpart, this counterpart remains invisible and silent throughout the film. From the very start, the identity-political question of “Who is speaking?” is undermined in De Facto – and for good reason. For it is precisely the apparent clarity of the positioning that induces a false sense of security in relation to political violence. During years of research, director Selma Doborac studied a wide variety of sources, including court records from The Hague, and testimonies and perpetrator reports from a multitude of historical contexts. They reveal a universal dynamics of violence that goes beyond the historically specific nature of the crimes. Confronting them unsettles our moral certainties and our attempts to distance ourselves, because we become aware of the disturbing possibility of their recurrence. At the same time, however, it is only in this way that the profound analytical reflection becomes possible which can provide a counterpoint to inhumanity.
Form and Abstraction
De Facto meets this challenge by concentrating on the artistic form, which is established from the start by the clear staging of the setting. The protagonist seated at the table is situated in a coolly stylised room, the abstract character of which becomes immediately apparent from the resolute composition of the filmic image. Only in the last shot does it become possible to recognise and examine the architecture of the building in its entirety from the outside. Its symbolic connotation is initially less important than its concrete design, in the form of large, windowless openings that visibly and audibly allow one the view of an exterior full of rustling trees behind the protagonist. The static nature of the interior space produces a sense of tension in relation to the experience of duration, which unfolds in real time through the movement of leaves, the rumbling of thunder and the slow disappearance of daylight. The three-legged table, which remains the focal point of the image throughout the film, also constitutes a powerful formal gesture. In addition to the manifold associations that arise from the reflections in its dark surface, it creates the initial awareness of the scene’s artistic will-to-form and its spatial compactness. Its three table legs repeatedly convey to the viewer a sense of irritation, oscillating between the monumentally static and instability. This impression is automatically doubled whenever the protagonist crosses one of his legs over the other, thereby making it disappear from sight. The sequence of fade-ins and fade-outs is also strictly formalised. After a long shot without cuts the narrating protagonist is replaced, following a black fade, by a second one. The older man (Cornelius Obonya) sits at the same table, in the same room, yet the arrangements are different. While Protagonist 1 always speaks in the first person, Protagonist 2 uses the ambiguous “you” when speaking. His speeches may be understood as a kind of inner monologue, which enables a dubious self-distancing from his own deeds as a protagonist. At the same time, use of the pronoun in its inherent quality of address leaves the possibility open that the viewer is being co-addressed. While the younger man tends to embody the dimension of a soldier acting directly, the older one instead combines facets of a higher military strategist and commander who, among other things, muses on his occasional visits to the camps. Both are dressed unobtrusively and in civilian clothes, in a manner that allows only minor conclusions to be drawn about their habitual background. Their appearances in the scenes follow a precise and exactly timed sequence according to an A/B scheme.
Rationalisation and Supremacy
What emerges as common ground from this cinematic juxtaposition is an ambivalent practice of rationalising one’s own relationship to one’s actions. Both figures dissociate themselves from those negatively viewed so-called “perverts” and “butchers” who sought an ecstatic dissolution of boundaries in the atrocities. They both describe their contempt for the disinhibited sadistic enjoyment that comes with interracial mixing, impurity and long-term loss of control. In this way, they present themselves as protagonists who, in contrast to their bestial colleagues, can still represent a counterpart in their objectivity and linguistic eloquence. In the undetermined situation of their narration, both are already taking part in a judicial reappraisal of their own crimes, willingly making themselves available to the new post-catastrophe social order as co-operative key witnesses. Away from the strictly regulated order of the court, which is oriented towards facts and evidence, they are here availing themselves of the open conversational situation to report on their deeper motives. However, their willingness to take responsibility is soon revealed as yet another form of violent usurpation of supremacy when they perfidiously think their way into the position of their victims and try to take linguistic possession of the latter’s testimonies. In this way, there comes to light a deeper problem of violence, one which is almost more disturbing than that of the senseless butchers: the ability of perpetrators to empathise with victims, instrumentalising and thereby negating and annihilating them not only physically but also psychologically. The torture carried out in Abu Ghraib, which was precisely calculated psychologically, and employed the knowledge of “learned helplessness”, is only one example of a perverted, deliberately rational concept of empathy.
The Dynamics of Dehumanisation
In the last part of the film, the protagonists’ speeches then additionally open up to the philosophical history of the idea of Reason, as well as its Other, which in psychoanalysis is called the ‘drive’ or the ‘unconscious’. Whereas Protagonist 1 increasingly speaks about the limits of legal discourse and what can be said within them, thereby implicitly mocking the fact that the victims are speechless and psychologically overwhelmed, Protagonist 2 ponders the beauty of a supposedly nature-endowed Reason, which serves him as a natural justification for a murderous, ethno-popularist idea. Instinctively, the theses of Horkheimer and Adorno, with their “Dialectics of Enlightenment”, come to mind. Ratio as the central figure of Western thought becomes destructive at the moment when it forcibly excludes its Other and sets the self-identical against alterity, making the claim that it is totalising itself. Protagonist 2 suggests that the path from the omission of a greeting on the street to the deportation of the other to a camp is much shorter than generally assumed. A common thread that runs through the content of De Facto is the examination of precisely these creeping processes of dehumanising the other. They can also take place in an extreme form in a family setting, as in the case of Natascha Kampusch, to which the second protagonist evidently refers briefly in one of his speeches. In a wider social context, it is above all contagious group dynamics that lead to “othering” , as well as to a friend-or-foe model, setting in motion a spiral of disinhibited emotions directed against future victims. Both protagonists of the film also correspond to each other in that the younger one repeatedly refers to a discourse, in the sense of an ideology, that was prepared long beforehand by the older one. “That’s how it was put” or “That’s the way it was done” here refers not only to following orders, to which perpetrators often refer in their justifications, but also to certain practices, such as the use of animal names or a refusal to show compassion. De Facto also takes an analytical look at the widespread tendency to present oneself as the actual victim of an action, a role which can thus be charged with pathos as a necessary duty or burden. Here, a special form of the obscenity of perpetration becomes rhetorically graphic in its rationalising distortion and exoneration. From the very first moment, De Facto develops a pull effect through the accuracy and complexity of its written text, increasingly opening out into a movement of thought. Paralysing moments in which genocidal crimes are described are repeatedly interrupted by historical and philosophical references, whereby the language spoken triggers its own reflection. When, at one point, a radio station is heard broadcasting the car number plates of “cockroaches” who should be killed, the viewer recognises, also through familiarity with Milo Rau’s works such as Hate Radio , a concrete reference to documented acts that occurred during the genocide in Rwanda.
Between Text and Subject
At the same time, Selma Doborac goes much further in her reflections on perpetration than Rau has attempted, for instance in his theatrical reading of Breivik’s Statement. It is not just a matter of taking the documented statements of perpetrators seriously as discourse, transferring them into an aesthetic context and in this way making people think, but of establishing a double movement of reflection: that of speech, through its intertextual embedding, as well as that of its theatrical embodiment by the two actors. The impressive intensity that Christoph Bach and Cornelius Obonya develop is not created by a game of identification, of thinking oneself into a certain perpetrator in the sense of method acting, but by the precarious balance between the scenic appropriation of the spoken word and a withdrawal of the actor’s intention. This creates a de-subjectivised form of language in which the individual consciousness opens up to the physical power of the text in the sense of psychoanalytically working through it. Even the slips of the tongue that sometimes occur in the various single takes are not eliminated as mistakes as such, but are understood as manifestations of the development of an unconscious reaction to the text. In the process, it also becomes clear that uttering such historical fragments can create a link to one’s own transgenerationally transmitted historical experience and thus take on its own evidential character. In the artistic process, the documentary nature of the source material enters into a resonance with the body’s memory again (or perhaps for the first time). When Hegel’s concept of the “world spirit” becoming aware of itself, or Heidegger’s “destiny of being” become part of the speech, they evoke the discourses of idealist philosophy just as much as Emmanuel Levinas’ critique of totality . The instrumentalisation of life through the biopolitics described by Foucault enters into a dialogue with a critique of a technocratic “expropriation of death” . However, neither the historical nor the philosophical discourses in De Facto are intended as an indexical system of reference, so the sources are deliberately not named in the credits. They are rather components of a multi-faceted resonance chamber. This too is consistent in terms of the film’s form, for neither the actors nor the audience are concerned with a controllability of speech, which would dissolve the “middle” position between text and subject in favour of a distancing juxtaposition. In relation to working through violence, this also has an ethical component, in which an opening-up towards that which is often fended-off and frightening can arise.
Selma Doborac, together with her actors, has succeeded, in a manner that is as extraordinary as it is haunting, in further developing the possibilities of artistic testimony and of working with documentary material.
(Silvia Bahl, Filmdienst.de, 11 March 2023, translation into English by Peter Waugh)
De Facto: The Creeping Shadow in 73rd Berlinale – Berlin International Film Festival. Review by Elena Rubashevska, FIPRESCI.
Two men talking on a screen. No emotions, no visual triggers, no action. Nothing we didn’t know or hadn’t heard before. Yet many people were leaving the screening indignantly; others covered their eyes, incapable of bearing the humanistic torture they were experiencing. In her experimental documentary De Facto (presented in Forum), director Selma Doborac ruthlessly exposes the audience to the dark side of our nature. Will we be strong enough to stand up to this thought-through psychological provocation?
Nowadays, the world is often divided into black and white. We know perfectly well who the good guys and the bad guys are. We know which messages are right and which should be condemned and prohibited. We conform and abide in complete confidence that we’re making our world a better place. Yet numerous times, history has proven that civilization is fragile and that individuals and nations can descend into barbarism in a blink of an eye. Is it time to turn to the denied – thus suppressed parts of our personalities? To acknowledge this means to prevent the worst from happening, but that might require a great deal of courage. In an impressive and strikingly impersonal manner, for 130 minutes, actors Christoph Bach and Cornelius Obonya will talk about crimes against human dignity and life. Their voices will chant an intimidating lullaby composed of the description of atrocities human beings are capable of. This sheer violence they are discussing is not new: we read about it in books, watched dozens of films, and revealed top-secret documentation. But have we learned the lesson that will make up for the trauma and prevent a new catastrophe from happening? Agreeing to watch this film means constantly asking this unpleasant question (whose answer becomes evident once you read the daily news). The time is pressing, and the answer should be given – by each of us individually and as a society.
Indeed, to sit through the screening experience of De Facto might be quite a challenge: it’s excruciating, it requires 100% presence, it is repetitive. The legitimate commentary would be, “I get it. People sometimes behave like animals toward each other! Why do I have to sit through it? To listen to rape details? To murder details? I know it already, and listening to it is unbearable!”. Well, we can assume that for the victims of those crimes, it was not a pleasant experience either. And to share this utter discomfort and pain might be a way of paying tribute to innocent lives that perished because someone was never interested in being analytical towards themselves.
If we are talking of the Berlinale as a ‘soft political power,’ De Facto is an excellent example of how cinema can still become a tool for changes in an era of overwhelming content. Especially with the numerous films about the Ukrainian war at this year’s festival (which explicitly showed battles, destruction, and death to no avail), De Facto, using strikingly scarce means, becomes a perfect example of how cinema can cross the boundaries of art and transcend to the realms of psychology and social sciences. Its radical artistic choices are forcing us to start a public dialogue about often silenced topics. In this regard, the article by Carl Gustav Jung called “The Fight with the Shadow” comes to mind. Here is a short quotation: “He [Hitler] represented the shadow, the underside of everyone’s personality, on a staggering scale, which was another reason why people followed him. What could they do? In Hitler, every German had to see his own shadow, the greatest danger to himself. To realize your shadow and learn to manage it is the fate of all people. The world will never achieve order until this truth is recognized by all”.
Instead of being self-righteous, we must be cautious and vigilant. The shadow creeps in gingerly, takes roots, and establishes itself when we least expect it, making it easy to blame the Other, not noticing that what we are afraid of reflects our souls and desires. Art can stand on guard; Selma Doborac and De Facto have already put up an impressive fight.
(Elena Rubashevska, edited by Anne-Christine Loranger, FIPRESCI 2023)
Berlinale Forum 2023. Review by Darren Hughes. Filmmaker Magazine.
In De Facto, filmmaker Selma Doborac focuses on perpetrators of violence – more specifically, on the challenge of representing perpetrators without enticing viewers to participate in any way in the thrills or degradation of violence. The 130-minute film consists of only seven shots, the first six of which are static images of one of two actors, Christoph Bach and Cornelius Obonya, who take turns delivering long, rapid-fire monologues. Each sits in a Franz West chair at a polished Heimo Zobering table (both designers are credited in the film and press kit). The unidentified location is a sparsely decorated room with large open windows, situated in a wooded landscape; the breeze and natural light shift throughout each extended take. All of Doborac’s formal decisions – duration, montage, decor, performance style – are self-consciously conceptual. She has designed a Brechtian alienation machine, pulling out all the stops to distance viewers from the content of the monologues, which is a text collage of first-person testimonies, confessions and statements by anonymous, real-world perpetrators of obscene violence, including men who worked in Nazi concentration camps. It’s a provocative conceit, to say the least. Another critic in Berlin told me De Facto was either a major work or full of shit, he hadn’t decided which. After a second viewing, I’m leaning heavily toward the former.
Doborac, who was born in Bosnia and Herzogovina and now lives in Vienna, describes De Facto as an “alternative testimony,” a strategy that sits outside of traditional documentary forms and archival work. (Her director’s statement is unusually direct and useful.) She has crafted what is in effect a chamber drama that would, I suspect, translate well to the stage. I’ve now seen it on a large theater screen and at home, and the experience was more or less the same – it seems ready-made for galleries, too – because the overriding effect of the staging and Straubian recitation style is to make the performers present and tangible and, somehow, instructively archetypal: two middle-aged white men, stoic and haunted, recount in grotesque detail the grimmest depths of human depravity. And we, somehow, are there in the room with them. I wonder how different my experience of De Facto would be if I were fluent in German and were able to focus my full attention on their small gestures and on the sonorities of their voices rather than having to choose constantly whether to watch and listen or to read the subtitles. Being in proximity to Doborac’s “perpetrators” is fascinating; I’d like to get even closer, I think. I won’t spoil the seventh and final shot of De Facto other than to say it uses formal means to shake viewers out of the spell (or slumber, let’s be honest) cast by the long static monologues. Whether it serves as a benediction or an ecstatic howl, I’m not quite sure. Both, perhaps.
(Darren Hughes, Filmmaker Magazine, 29 March 2023)
De Facto. Diagonale. Festival des Österreichischen Films. Katalogkurztext.
In rastlosen Monologen rezitieren zwei Schauspieler Zeugenberichte und Täteraussagen aus nicht genannten zeitgeschichtlichen Konflikten. Ohne Kontexte zu benennen, erzählen sie von der Entfesselung von Gewalt – von (un)menschlichen Abgründen, zu denen De Facto in einer kompromisslosen, beharrlichen und minutiös durchdachten philosophisch-literarischen Verhandlung von Täterschaft vordringt.
(Martina Genetti, Diagonale 2023)
De Facto. Diagonale. Festival of Austrian Film. Catalogue text. Longline.
In tireless monologues, two actors recite testimonies and perpetrator statements from various unnamed conflicts in recent history. Without naming any reference to historical or political contexts, and detached from all emotion, the texts tell of a discarding of reason and unleashing of violence – of (in-)human abysses that De Facto penetrates with its uncompromising, insistent, and meticulously thought-out philosophical and literary treatment of perpetrators.
(Martina Genetti, Diagonale 2023)
De Facto. Diagonale. Festival des Österreichischen Films. Katalogtext.
Ein Mann sitzt an einem Tisch vor einem offenen Mauerwerk, dahinter ein Wald. Eine unermüdlich nachrückende Wortgewalt füllt den leeren, vorerst kontextlosen Raum. In atemlos-rasantem Monolog legt der Mann seine Zeugenschaft an Gräueltaten ab, erzählt von Lagerarbeit, Erniedrigung, Demütigung, Folter, Gewalt und Vergewaltigung, von gebrochenen Menschen, würdelosem Leben, Überleben und Sterben. Im zweiten Bild erscheint ein weiterer Mann, auch er verkörpert einen Täter. In drei Akten geben die zwei Schauspieler ohne Schnittunterbrechung Zeugen- und Täterberichte von Konflikt-, Krieg- und Gewaltsituationen wieder, ohne historische, geografische oder gesellschaftliche Kontexte zu benennen. Das Gesagte beruht auf Aussagen von Tätern und Überlebenden, Gerichtsurteilen und Protokollen verschiedener zeitgeschichtlicher Geschehnisse. Losgelöst von Individuen und Systemen ebenso wie von Mitgefühl, Schuldeingeständnis, Verteidigung oder Rechtfertigung verschmelzen die von den Schauspielern verkörperten Standpunkte, Rollen und Perspektiven zu Archetypen von Tätern und bringen in einer konzentrierten Kumulation der Fakten Essenz und Extrem von Tat und Täterschaft hervor: das Ablegen der Vernunft, die freie Enthemmung von Aggression, die Eskalation von Brutalität, die Entfesselung von Gewalt und die Verselbstständigung derselben. Innerhalb eines minimalistisch ausgestatteten Settings und mit allumfassender Wucht des Wortes übersetzt Selma Doborac die philosophische Auseinandersetzung mit Täterschaft in eine bis ins kleinste Detail minutiös durchdachte filmisch-literarische Komposition, die in ihrer Dauer, Konsequenz und Kompromisslosigkeit beharrlich bleibt wie ein*e Richter*in beim Verhör. Auf inhaltlicher, formaler und sprachlicher Ebene performt De Facto Vorgänge, Strategien und Methoden der Entmenschlichung: Emotionslos, zeit- und effizienzgetrimmt werden Fakten in schauspielerischer Meisterleistung von Christoph Bach und Cornelius Obonya ebenso mechanisch rezitiert, wie die besprochenen Taten ausgeführt wurden. Die filmische Übersetzung der Rolle der Sprache und die dramaturgische Inszenierung von Haltung, Körper, Gestik und Blick bringen eine neue Form der Dokumentation, Archivierung und Weitergabe von Zeugenschaft hervor, für die es keine Abbilder braucht, um zu verstehen. Selma Doboracs De Facto ist ein Meisterwerk über Vernunft, Moral, (un-)menschliche Abgründe und die Essenz von Gewalt.
(Martina Genetti, Diagonale 2023)
De Facto. Diagonale. Festival of Austrian Film. Catalogue Text.
A man sits at a table in front of open brickwork, behind which is a forest. A relentlessly advancing barrage of words fills the empty room, which initially lacks any context. In a breathlessly rapid monologue, the man testifies to atrocities, gives an account of camp work, humiliation, degradation, torture, violence and rape, of broken people, lives without dignity, of survival and death. In the second scene a different man appears, and he too embodies a perpetrator. Over three acts, the two actors, in continuous uninterrupted shots, relate the reports of witnesses and perpetrators from situations of conflict, war and violence, without any historical, geographical or social contexts being named. What is spoken is based on statements made by perpetrators and survivors, and the court rulings and transcripts relating to various events in contemporary history.
Detached from individuals and systems, as well as from compassion, admissions of guilt, defence or justification, the standpoints, roles and perspectives embodied by the actors merge into perpetrator archetypes, bringing out, in a concentrated accumulation of facts, the essence and extreme nature of the deeds and their perpetration: the discarding of reason, the free disinhibition of aggression, the escalation of brutality, the unleashing of violence and the way it takes on a momentum of their own.
Within a minimalist setting and with an all-encompassing force of words, Selma Doborac translates the philosophical examination of perpetration into a cinematic-literary composition which is meticulously thought out, down to the smallest detail, and which remains as persistent in its duration, consistency and intransigence as a judge during a hearing. On the levels of content, form and language, De Facto performs processes, strategies and methods of dehumanisation: in masterful performances by Christoph Bach and Cornelius Obonya, the facts are recited just as mechanically as the acts described were carried out: without emotion and trimmed to time and efficiency. The cinematic translation of the role of language and the dramaturgical staging of posture, body, gestures and gaze result in a new form of documenting, archiving and transmitting testimony, which requires no images to be understood. Selma Doborac’s De Facto is a masterpiece about reason, morality, (in)human abysses and the essence of violence.
(Martina Genetti, Diagonale 2023, translation into English by Peter Waugh)
Selma Doborac's "De Facto": A Review from Diagonale Film Festival by Noemi Ehrat
De Facto is a cinematic masterpiece highlighting not only the importance of being alert to, and wary of, populist and fascist rhetoric, but also the power of cinema.
The concept of Austrian filmmaker Selma Doborac’s second feature documentary film De Facto seems simple enough: two men sit at a table in a so-called open-air temple of friendship in a Viennese park, recalling and justifying the war crimes they committed. However, they are not in dialogue, rather the camera shows us one man monologuing at a time – and this without interruption for almost thirty minutes. The near complete lack of pause and, in case of actor Christoph Bach, the remarkable speed of speech, evoke the disorienting impressions made by stream-of-consciousness narrative styles, wherein the characters detail one horrific detail of slaughter and rape after another, sometimes returning to the same topics repeatedly.
This is where the apparent simplicity ends. Even though the two men, portrayed by actors Christoph Bach and Cornelius Obonya, are never identified as specific individuals, they cannot be said to be completely anonymous either. Instead, they can be seen as the embodiment of “the perpetrator”: director Selma Doborac has written her script based on years of research on war crimes that span two centuries and continents. She has chosen not to identify her sources just yet, a decision whose controversy has been debated by audiences and critics alike.
She wants to avoid De Facto being perceived as a film rooted in a specific conflict, such as the Second World War, as she fears it would impact an audience’s openness to connect the issues with the present day. In her writing, she chose to focus on patterns that kept re-emerging instead. The most prominent action may change at any given time but may oscillate between the presence of sexualised violence, to the men's relativizing of their actions compared with those of their comrades, or the use of dehumanising language.
Indeed, language is at the core of Doborac’s film. Towards the end, when watching and listening becomes almost unbearable – the film runs 130 minutes – Obonya’s character tries to explain the logic of the horror committed through a pseudo-philosophical lecture on reason and poetry: “poetry has always played a prophetic, a creative, an almost constituting role in the world […] poetry, that is the foundation of this world”. In De Facto, then, poetry can be dangerously close to propaganda. “Everything plays out on the level of language: it is the strongest medium in preparation for the crime”, Doborac says. Language, of course, be it poetic language, official language, or the language of song lyrics, always represents ideology and identity. De Facto impressively demonstrates how seemingly rational language can quickly become a medium used to mobilize the masses and to call for genocide on the radio.
So, why choose film as a medium for a work that largely focuses on language in textual form? “According to the convention of the cinema, one wouldn’t leave the room – the spectator is supposed to stay in the theatre for the duration of the film”, Doborac says. She wanted to work with this almost claustrophobic situation where the cinematic form does not allow for any movement other than that on the screen. In this case, however, there’s also no movement on screen, which amplifies the almost brutal vehemence of the experience. “The only movement is that of language”, Doborac explains. “At a certain point, this transcendentalizes into an inner movement.” This inner movement, or the slow realisation that the horrific events recounted could easily happen anytime, anywhere, is the only logical conclusion to this essentially antifascist piece of work. Even though this realisation might be difficult, even painful, it is ultimately empowering too, bestowing the viewer with a sense of civic responsibility.
Doborac’s innovative and radical form is also just highly affective – during the film’s Austrian premiere at the Diagonale film festival in Graz heads began to drop; tears were wiped away; some people even left the room. Yet Doborac is no fan of trigger warnings that might prepare an audience for what they’re about to see and hear. “The experiences described are actualities – I feel that it should be possible to endure listening to them for once.” It seems like this is a lot to ask of an audience. After the screenings at Berlinale in Germany and now here, in Graz, the audiences’ reactions have been accordingly intense. Having won the renowned Caligari-award at Berlinale, the film will soon be screened in theatres across Germany, where audiences won’t have the chance to articulate their viewing experience in questions to the filmmaker. However, Doborac firmly believes in the audience. “Whether I’m present or not, my belief in the audience holds. They can find their own way with the material”.
However, Doborac is also aware of her responsibility as a filmmaker not only towards the source material she’s worked with but also towards her audience. “This is why I chose to work with verbal images – through the reduced language I’ve created, everyone can find their own imagery”. Moreover, Doborac has created spaces within the film that allow the audience to pause for a while: De Facto was filmed in a park and so rustling leaves, falling rain and birdsong are audible, sometimes almost drowning out what is being said by the actors.
Finally, in the very last scene, Doborac jerks the audience back into the present, and into their own bodies, by showing the temple from a distance with a drums-heavy Krautrock song playing over the scene. This further allows the filmmaker to expose and contextualise her own cinematic ideology and methodology – she wants to not only bring the audience out of the film and back into the present, but also to have them question her own motives, too, by explicitly highlighting the film’s nature as a production created by her.
No UK release is planned as of yet, though that would come with its own difficulties. “We worked on the English subtitles extensively with an English-speaking poet, as the translation into a secondary language has to be exact”, Doborac says. Dubbing the film would be strange, as the specific gestures and intonations from Bach and Obonya, who embody the perpetrators, are crucial to the film. However, there is a risk that English-speaking audiences would immediately associate the film’s German language with the third Reich, which would contradict Doborac’s intended universality. Be that as it may, De Facto is a cinematic masterpiece highlighting not only the importance of being alert to, and wary of, populist and fascist rhetoric, but also the power of cinema.
(Noemi Ehrat, Radical Art Review, 2 April 2023)
Crossing Europe Film Festival. Crossing Europe Local Artist Award. Jury-Statement. (Award)
Schicht um Schicht legt sich über das Gesagte. Sorgfältig orchestrierte Details in Bild und Ton kontrastieren die brachiale Gewalt der Worte. In atemloser Rhythmik vorgetragen, steigt der Film in die Köpfe von Tätern und Kriegsverbrechern und präsentiert eine Innenansicht – ohne zu werten und ohne zu dramatisieren. Der Sog, der sich daraus entwickelt, ist schmerzhaft und nachhaltig. Während Szene für Szene das Licht den Schauplatz im Wald verlässt, bleibt das Kino in unseren Köpfen hell erleuchtet. Die Bilder legen Zeugenschaft über Gräueltaten ab, die leider allzu gegenwärtig sind. Der Regisseurin ist ein Meisterwerk über die Frage nach Moral und Entfesselung von Gewalt gelungen. (Nicola von Leffern)
Mitglieder der Jury: Nicola von Leffern (Regisseurin), Markus Reindl (Künstlerischer Leiter, Kurator Stream Festival Linz), Anna Spanlang (Künstlerin, Filmemacherin)
Layer upon layer of abstraction is cast over the research, yet the film is stripped down to its core. Carefully orchestrated details in image and sound contrast the brute force of the spoken word. Performed in breathless rhythm, the film gets into the heads of perpetrators and war criminals, presenting an inside view – without judging and without dramatizing. The maelstrom that develops is painful and lingering. While scene after scene the light leaves the set in the forest, the cinema in our heads remains brightly lit. Those images bear witness to atrocities that are sadly all too present – even in this very moment. The director has succeeded in creating a masterpiece about the question of morality and the unleashing of violence. (Nicola von Leffern)
Members of the Jury: Nicola von Leffern (film director), Markus Reindl (artistic director, curator Stream Festival Linz), Anna Spanlang (artist, filmmaker)
De Facto. FID Marseille International Film Festival. Catalogue text.
A man sits in a room with geometrical architecture and large, paneless windows with a view of the forest. He sits at a table, the surface of which, like a mirror, reflects the vegetation and the architecture. He starts to speak. The shot is static and lasts twenty-five minutes with a monologue in the first person, broken up with very brief pauses. He speaks rapidly and evenly, his voice neutral, his face expressionless. What he is saying has nothing to do with his own life or if he were playing a part. It is the story of anonymous executioners, perpetrators of collective crimes whose statements were taken and kept during the 20th century’s history of concentration camps and genocides. The screen goes black for a second before, another, older man, seated on the other side of the same table, in the same but differently arranged room, begins another monologue. He is not recounting the facts of mass crime; he is trying to ponder its logic, its anthropologic. De Facto: facts and their meaning, which defy reason. The approach devised by Selma Doborac offers film an unprecedented capacity to understand mass terror and its dehumanising processes. It works using decontextualisation (we never know which camp or massacre it’s about) and depersonalisation (we never know who’s talking, with the actor’s task reduced to the act of speech, purely reciting the text, its violence and the meditation of it). Simultaneously delving into the deepest depths of the human soul and performance philosophy of the act – the act of telling, the act of killing, the actor’s performance blending with the perpetration of the crime to a dizzying extent – De Facto strips cinema bare to demonstrate, soberly and without effect, its most radical critical power.
De Facto. FID Marseille International Film Festival. Interview. Cyril Neyrat & Selma Doborac, July 2023. (Interview)
Cyril Neyrat: Through means of abstraction and decontextualization, De Facto profoundly renews the filmic approach of mass murder and crimes against humanity throughout the 20th century. What led you to undertake such a project? Which observations, intuitions, premises?
Selma Doborac: I wanted to say something about perpetration, yet in a way that never re-presents the real individual perpetrator in his uniqueness (which of course does not exist); I considered that the possibility of well-founded witnessing might be easier to seek and develop in the person who carried out the deed, in comparison, for example, to the victim, who has been harmed, humiliated, in short, permanently affected by suffering the deed, which does not mean that witnessing is therefore impossible, the contrary is of course the case, but the disinhibited remnant of the one who was capable of the deeds seemed to me to be interestingly closer to work on when contemplating the true deed and using the means of film bring out what is true in all its truth, to tell it differently, so to speak, as something real and true – that is why I developed two perpetrator personae from innumerable facts and in a strict form, who were to present true perpetrations of recent contemporary history in a completely uninhibited and open manner.
I wanted to bring those deeds that are true into a formalised framework and thus through the true deeds let them become real in their re-enactment, so to speak, but always in the absence of the real perpetrator. I also felt that those attempts to engage with perpetrators known to me so far, be they auditory or visual, though not the written ones – the word, compared to images or sound, contains completely different possibilities of independent imagination (that is why I also wrote the characters from the facts, so to speak) – for example, recorded appearances and voices and gestures, or attitudes in court at judicial verdicts, were an inadequate means of reproduction when trying to recreate the truth of the factual elements of the negotiated, judged deeds that are to be understood. In relation to the real perpetrator, it quickly becomes evident how almost every court becomes a stage, every interview a rehabilitation, every publication of a socially rehabilitated perpetrator a misrepresentation, etc.
I find re-enactment even more problematic, employing (I say this deliberately) the very person who is supposedly reproducing his true deed in a genuine way – ‘re-staging’ would be a better word; and the danger of such ostensibly genuine reproductions by those who have committed the crimes is worth considering, namely to what extent is another stage (in film) being offered not just to reproduce the crime, that would not be the problem, but to stylise it; no matter how the perpetration or deeds have been negotiated, I have to consider to whom I am giving the stage to reproduce something and thus possibly weakening the seriousness and genuineness and truth of this subject (since it is then acted out – in front of the camera, for the recording device, for the ‘audience’, but then really acted out), thus trivialising and blurring it. This should therefore definitely be done by stand-ins, but they should be able to sustain the thoroughly disinhibited and grave content in a strict manner (in addition, there are further responses); these are once again actors. Then there is also the consideration of creating a formal space for negotiation, in order to arrive at a place where conventional representations of both perpetration and especially its potential as a truth-bearing testimony are not sufficient.
The main material of the film is a series a long monologues made of the montage of testimonies from different origins – mainly perpetrators, but also their hierarchy, witnesses… What can you reveal of the sources? Can you tell us about the process of your research (where, how, for how long), and of the editing of the text?
The text is a film script; I wrote a film script that is based on the circumstances of crimes that actually occurred in the course of recent history; what it negotiates and what it returns to: actions, witness statements, soldiers’ reports, perpetrators’ confessions, court judgements, philosophical arguments, psychological categories etc. They are all real, but the text has been composed, even if it is underpinned with these facts – and in order that these facts could become tangible and comprehensible, I developed two dramatic (undramatic) characters who present these facts, which form the basis of the discussion of perpetration. The sources are very extensive and I spent three years researching before I was able to write the film script; indeed I wrote it with reference to the sources, but of course I also developed my own writing dynamics and had to evolve the necessary freedom to deal with all the material (for instance in characterisation) that I had worked on and carried with me for years, simply in order to be able to comprehend it and (re)present the situations.
It is not about setting one fact against another, or disguising one with another; on the contrary, it is about revealing that, even though the circumstances and eras are different, there is something universal about all of them, and that is the ability of human beings to do unspeakable things to other human beings; how they were dealt with socially, and which conventions of jurisdiction, archiving and witnessing play a role in that, are also essential themes of the film, but the overriding theme is: How do I dramatically recapitulate the real deeds in a way that does not give the perpetrator a stage, how do I comprehend the crime as such, in its sheer intolerability, in order to understand it, how do I transmit the crime committed at the time to the now of the moment of seeing the film (or better still, to its after-effects), and how can I possibly manage, using filmic means, to give this incomprehensibility a shape, an additional, as yet undeveloped place (the cinema space), in order to recognise something through it (perhaps also to bear witness to it) and possibly to transform my knowledge into an autonomy that I can use next time I am confronted with decisions.
It is certainly a matter of considering to what extent film has the possibility of reaching places that conventional methods and strategies, such as witnessing, coming to terms with the past, the unspeakable remains of the incomprehensible, etc., do not reach at all. To indicate the source means to approve the option of knowing oneself supposedly informed by source information, and the danger of this seems to me to be that one might dismiss everything just heard in the film as already known, and therefore not continue working on it; to guess at the source itself, to imagine it and to trace it as part of the discomfort that I, as a spectator, might feel as an after-effect, and even possibly to verify it, to reflect upon where I recognise a well-known narrated scene from (for example: men hanging next to each other on poles in animal slaughterhouses could be Abu Ghraib, or the description of a football match with inmates of a camp could be Auschwitz, etc.) – this movement of thinking and the unease it arouses probably stimulates my interest in increasing my knowledge about it more definitely; these were my very extensive considerations about not indicating the sources, which are really enormously rich and diverse, and which all exist, as well as about not pretending that the film is a scientific work or a court transcript – because even these are not sufficient to understand how much of what remains of the unspeakable is inaccessible and cannot be told. Film, as a contribution to a series of attempts at corrective action, perhaps arrives there by a different route.
The text is spoken alternatively by two actors, Christoph Bach and Cornelius Obonya, in a way wish clearly forbids any identification between them and the authors of the testimonies. Their performance is impressive. On which grounds did you chose them? How did you work with them to shape such a depersonalized tone and to achieve such a performance?
We worked very intensively and rehearsed in a very disciplined manner every day for months. In a classical way, although I quite methodically and successively guided everything towards an undramatic style, in a desired direction; that is actually the most beautiful work, the shared development of the character and the guidance of the actors. To be ready for every possible question that will arise within the process and to be able to react to it and act upon it, and at the same time to be able to see the needs of the individual actor.
The relationship between director and actor is one of trust and then courage. An actor has to be capable of wishing to sustain a character, and be able to do so, and to do that he has to feel well taken care of and accompanied. I do not want to talk too much about my motivation for choosing individual actors, but I think there is always something that one sees in an actor and you pursue that; a character will always turn out differently depending on the choice of actor, not as a whole, but in pronounced nuances; the task is to see what an actor can contribute (to the truth of the character), what he is willing to give for the character, what he can do – and he does not need to know all that himself yet, only I need to know that; then you go there and seek it out together, bring it out, put it into practice – with enormous perseverance and discipline.
Each actor will bring his own interpretation of the character, but the essence of what the character is will always remain the same and that is in the text, in the characterisation, as well as in the aforementioned possibility that exists in the actor from the outset to (truly) realise this text and this character – without him knowing, I have to know what truth is potentially there in the acting charter. “Let that become visible which would never have become visible without you.” (here again, in relation to the ‘model’, Bresson); it is a relationship of trust (the actors allow themselves to be led to something they may not know), which is also conducive to the desire to act; the kind of interpretation of the acting, however, is fixed in advance and not hidden, it must nevertheless first be discovered by the actors for themselves, even if it is revealed from the outset; they find it by being allowed to try out everything for a long time in order to arrive at what is already within them, even though they did not know it, or best of all: without them ever doing so; that is decisive for this method of creating a certain wakeful tension and thus of evoking a real and true situation despite the agreed framework conditions of the acting (here this is possible from the outset, in view of the content of the text, the film script, due to its overwhelming content); it is perhaps also very much about being able to learn to use all the means of one’s craft in order to put aside the craft after the process has been worked through and then be free when shooting.
A ‘model’ (Bresson) cannot achieve everything because he lacks the craft (for example, to sustain a scene for 30 minutes; there has to be a cut because the performance of truth is not sustainable over long stretches and the truthfulness of the moment quickly evaporates), an actor can certainly sustain and maintain something for a long time by arrangement – yet here, truthfulness has to be invoked again and again; to resolve the paradox, to lead the actor’s craft towards a model-like state and indeed to share the use of the schemata of the conventional means of acting, yet without exhibiting them, that is the challenge, but also a gift for the actor, since it is through this that he first becomes free. Inherent in a game is that its outcome is unknown; even if I know all the rules of a board game, at the beginning of the game I do not know where the game’s dynamics will lead me and thus the outcome is uncertain; getting there is the most important task in the game; not a template, but creating the possibility of arriving at what is unpredictably true, all within a controlled framework. A beautiful paradox.
The setting (both the architecture of the pavilion and the furniture) plays a major role in the concentration of the film on the spoken words. What were your intentions in choosing the location and designing the set, on what grounds did you conceive the filmic space?
I was looking, and for a very long time, for a space that could reproduce, through its light and sound, the natural movement of real time, in order to create an opening on a visual level, to complement and promote the concerted, very tightly defined movement of the figures, but also to open up space. I always wanted to be able to show that this is what was, this is what is being negotiated, but it concerns the now, and now is here and proceeds like this. I wanted the temporal narrative to be as universally valid as possible; not: that was in the 1930s, and that was in the year 2000, rather I wanted the space to appear so formally ‘gutted’ that a temporal universalism becomes possible – and thus generally applicable; not only to a past that has supposedly been worked through, but also as the validity of it today and in the future.
The artists who designed the objects sometimes collaborated (West is deceased) and I wanted to integrate this collaboration and what I find convincing about the continuity of their work, although not by exhibiting it, rather as a collaborative element that does not demand anything, but is just there and (through the design and choice of materials, as well as for conceptual reasons) cannot be immediately classified timewise; the objects also function as silent actors, so to speak, because they are works of art; one does not need to know that, because one simply perceives them and if not, then one still does anyway.
I do not want to reveal too much about the space in advance, because the reader may not have seen the film yet; but the space is a ‘fortunate’ one in that it allows a recurring statement to be made about what is being negotiated in the film (and towards the end of the film) and to comment upon it critically; I find it crucial to reveal my means in order to say to the viewer: also verify me, who has just told you something for 130 minutes; these are probably the means that I used (this is probably the location that I am showing, this remains to be considered and decided about the film); alternatively, as with Bert Brecht in the theatre: here is the blackboard on which the scene that is about to follow is briefly summarised; so do not let yourself be distracted by the action – because it has all been constructed for you, rather verify what the construction can give you; always know that this is theatre (of course: film), but that there is nothing bad about it, on the contrary: the good thing about it is that someone has made a concerted effort to recreate something that was possibly like this (but not exactly like this) and we are now supposed to look at it together and gain something from it; with Brecht it would go on like this: when the next scene comes, we close the curtain briefly to reconstruct it for you; we do not hide the fact that it is being acted, that this is a space that we have constructed, but the form in which the content is presented in this space is intended to give you something (through the execution, style, acting, language): knowledge and interest, and this form should give you autonomy by making you see and feel that something has been constructed, but is still nevertheless true; you can test me, here are my means.
However, since this has already been worked through, I leave out the curtain and the blackboard, so to speak, and go straight into the invocation of autonomy without commenting that I am commenting, because that hurdle has already been overcome. Plus, I think it is good when the resolution is not commented on, but represents, as a matter of course, the manifestation of what is being negotiated without underlining it and thus undermining it. The symbol, which stands for something, is then rewritten and reinterpreted.
Apart from the final one, the film is made of six shots of the actors speaking the text. Some are extremely long. Can you tell us about the shooting? What was your method, your discipline? Did you do many takes?
The shoot was concentrated and we shot everything chronologically: three days for each actor; for example, Actor 1: Act 1, 2, 3 and two or three repeats for each Act, the same again the next day and then the next. Then likewise with Actor 2. Making six days in total. During the shoot, it was important for me to have everything in place that had been rehearsed for months (for example, the stamina never to interrupt a take, which may last for more than 30 minutes, because they are written and conceived for continuous duration; I myself was also always the opposite number of the respective actor). However, the rehearsal method was also geared towards maintaining the intangible residue of a certain unpredictable tension, both when rehearsing and handling the characters (also written in such a dramatically undramatic way) and when shooting.
It is about building a foundation so solidly in advance that it can be forgotten when shooting, because one is standing on it and must never comment on the fact of standing on it, but can never know exactly how one is standing today; it is about creating a kind of permanent unpredictability (no dramatically accentuated acting, no physical assignments, no impressions, no commentary, no self-examination of how to interpret the acting), yet at the same time also creating conditions for shooting where it is a matter of now or never, this way and no other. What is possible today suffices because it has been sufficiently prepared and, above all, because what has been prepared has been sufficiently accounted for. Repetition is welcome, but only minimal; once, twice. I can only shoot the sunset once, indeed on three days, but it will only ever be possible to show one sunset. There is the arrangement, there was the preparation, the very disciplined rehearsal, the direction of the actors, which aims to allow the reality that is not actable as a supposed acting certainty, but occurs, to become true and break through; in other words, it was important to reduce the acting charter to a ‘model’ charter in the weeks of preparation for the moment of shooting; see the ‘models’ in Bresson’s work: never use the same ‘models’ twice, etc. Yet here what applies: work with the actors until the acting is chiselled down to model-like non-acting, which is the opposite possibility that Bresson did not attempt. Lead the acting towards non-acting. The actors should have become free in so far as they have become the character – through rehearsals that they have turned into the character, so to speak. No acting at all. The film concept allows for these moments: in such long takes, something previously unidentifiable will randomly occur because something (a word, a mood, a memory, the physical memory, the mood of the day) will overtake the actor at some point and he cannot act away what is true.
It was important to maintain this dualism: in every attempt to act, reality ultimately emerges. I always wanted to create a space in which the arrangement and trust are the guidelines, but unpredictability remains a leitmotif – the truth always breaks in, so to speak (through the weight of the textual content, through the duration of the scene, through occurences from outside: natural light, original sound, etc.). In this way, one is unpreparedly well prepared. I always knew, even with three shooting days per actor and one or two repetitions of a take per day, that I would eventually only use takes from the same day, because a day has its own true mood, another day has another; that is how I did it in the months-long editing process (which was a constant viewing process with countless notes): all the takes in the film are takes that were recorded on one shooting day, because I wanted that truth to manifest again. We worked exclusively with natural light and only with original sound; I wanted us to record as much as possible from the surroundings; for example, we placed additional microphones outside the set in order to make everything we actually heard audible in the film; the very subtle sound mix is purely what was there; I always thought about the sound design when scouting the location, so to speak. The cameraman and I inspected the lighting conditions on site and thought about how we could include each movement of the day exactly as it comes, without adding light. All the light-sound-time movements are very subtle and develop successively throughout the film, but they always break in and overlay the film, so to speak. It was important for me to include in this film what happens beyond control of a film. Once again, it is not about getting closer to the truth, but about being true.
The work on abstraction is counterbalanced by a strong incarnation: the physical presence of the actors but also the importance of light and its variations, and of the sound of nature. Can you comment on that?
Since the negotiated textual content is quite stringent and based on challenging realities, even though it is dramatically constructed (while of necessity appearing undramatic), it was important to me to create another factor on a visual level – to be accurate: one which is also transcendental and is indeed similarly anchored in factuality, yet like the textual space is of course also formally posited. The passing of real time during the passage of film time is a possible means of identifying the true, which has become real in a different way during the composition of the film; when the true is captured in real film time it not only comes close to the truth, but it is then true – and in this form, the factual (which is, after all, the object of the film) can, as it were, be experienced as true and real and factual and consequently interpreted in relation to what is true.
Alternatively, as Schrader says: with Ozu, the first take of the same mountain that returns as the last take in exactly the same way will not be the same take of the same mountain, because there was the film in between. What he wants to say is that the film has done something to the mountain or to the image of the mountain or to my image of the initial mountain, and so on. Here it is not only the film, but also real time that passes (for about 30 minutes as, until and after the sun really sets), and it not only concerns the actual duration of film time, it concerns in particular the duration in real time of the actors’ acting and thus also of the spectators’ viewing; when real time successively shoves its way, so to speak, into the film as a real element of the factual (real time, film time, actor time, spectator time, etc.), it passes as such in the film and will also be felt precisely as this in the film, because that is what it is – and will subsequently tend to lead to the aforementioned transcendence, simply because it has been experienced, endured or sustained as pure time, in its pure essence, etc. There is a difference between whether a cut develops the documentary or real character of the filmic composition, i.e. the character that strives for truthfulness, and whether this is done by means of the pure time plus the time that has really just passed and been endured in the film as film duration. This real and therefore true time is then simultaneously real and cinematically real and will affect the spectator, as well as the actors sustaining this time, presenting it and ultimately transcending it – that is beautiful: the simultaneity of the real (everything that thereby happens unpredictably, because it is that which is to be challenged) also becomes true in the film – and comes closer to accuracy or possible accuracy.
It is similar with the sound: the sound space as a real and therefore true narrative, which always contains the unpredictability of this narrative of the real (for example, the occurrence of a thunderstorm, the outcome of which is uncertain). The existing surroundings provide the assurance of being in the here and now and therefore of being at least ever closer and closer to accuracy, in order by that means to return to the real. To make the true real through time and sound, to transmit it (to the film, the spectator, the actor, to the now: film) means to be able to look more closely at what is true and perhaps also means later, as an after-effect, to recognise something about the past that is being negotiated here. Having actually acted out and observed and experienced time, one comes closer to a cognitive interest than if one has not experienced constructed time, so to speak.
Or as Bresson says: you have to see and hear the film when you close your eyes (even before you have done it). Alternatively: retouching the actual (I add here: only) with the actual. It is not about something that corresponds to the truth, but about something true. That which is true is perhaps a possibility of cognition. And also an opening: to hear vastness, even if not to see it, is nevertheless to feel and perceive it. Or to bring back something past (the course of events) and anchor it as part of the now (here, today, real). “To bring the past back into the present.”
De Facto. Review by Carmen Gray. The Film Verdict. (Critique)
Selma Doborac’s formally audacious, challenging and chilling doc-fiction hybrid decontextualises war crimes testimony to plumb the paltry limits and supreme power of language.
Cinema that grapples with genocide typically seeks to bear witness to the horror, solidifying its remembrance in collective history through testimony that records the names, places, dates and crimes, as well as giving validating voice to the survivors. With De Facto, experimental filmmaker Selma Doborac, who was born in Bosnia and lives and works in Vienna, takes a very different approach. She returns to the question of how to represent the atrocities of war, a concern she previously examined through imagery of uninhabited, damaged buildings in the former Yugoslavia in her debut essay film Those Shocking Shaking Days (2016). For De Facto, she has stripped back contextualising information from the testimonies of war crimes perpetrators, and any reference to their archival sources, to consider the essence, if one can be determined, of this human will and capability for committing atrocities, and to consider how acts which cross the bounds of what can be comprehended can be constituted, consumed or resisted through language. What results is a radical act of courage, in both De Facto’s formal audacity, and existential commitment to venturing into the darkest of places psychologically. Utterly chilling, intelligently conceived, and cognitively, emotionally and ethically challenging, the hybrid work is in the Documentary Competition programme at Sarajevo, after winning the Caligari Film Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it screened in the Forum section. Festivals with slots at the daring, uncompromising end of the documentary spectrum should pay attention.
The set-up seems simple enough: seated at a polished, reflective table (designed by artist Heimo Zobernig) in a Neoclassical gazebo with lush greenery behind them, two smartly dressed actors (Christoph Bach and Cornelius Obonya) alternate, reciting fragments of testimony with coolly detached matter-of-factness about what they did and saw in the war. Which war they are referring to is not easy to discern. Because they are speaking in German about extreme horrors in camps, the trial of Nazi war criminals initially springs to mind, with only later details, such as weekend war tourists positioned in the surrounding hills, orienting us, still indefinitely, to the Bosnian War, and the systematic methods of ethnic cleansing used in it to “morally annihilate” targets through rape and torture. The lack of information to safely categorise and contain these descriptions (which lean more toward self-exonerating excuses of motivation, than to guilt-ridden confession) hits us with the shock that this could be happening anywhere, at any time; that these are universalisable inhumanities. All the while, the wind shakes the leaves in the greenery behind the men, as the static space in the frame is dynamised by a meticulous, inspired soundtrack.
An impressively broad range of sociological and philosophical terrain is covered by Doborac in the texts she has brought into focus: the phenomenon of worker servility and following orders with a belief in abject work that “just had to be done”; baseless behaviour as contagion, and relativity in times of war; the denialism of perpetrators who say they suffered more than their victims in carrying out these crimes; the systematic dehumanisation of both soldiers and those they persecuted; how to explain what moved some to a licentiousness and sexual sadism that even went against efficiency, crossing the line into a boundless, radical departure from what is normally understood as human, where concepts of freedom and evil warp and converge.
The stories and explanations through which these themes are explored are deeply distressing, and, as they pile up, exhausting, and it is at this point that terrorisation by language itself, its dissembling potential and inadequacy, is more explicitly and self-reflexively considered. At some point, everybody attending and reporting on the war crimes trial got fed up hearing about it all, we hear – except for the judges, who never got tired of asking. Why we want these descriptions, and what we want them to do for us, is as essential to reflect on as why others silence them, the film suggests. Doborac refuses to placate our urge to gratify us through re-enactment as sensationalised entertainment. What she offers, instead, is a sliver of hope. An inmate reciting poetry to fight against her imprisonment in an unspeakable non-place is recalled as an almost impossible image of strength, as she summoned imaginary dialogue to reconstitute her own world. A poetic protest that cinema can and must also access.
(Carmen Gray, The Film Verdict, 12 August 2023)
Sarajevo Film Festival 2023. Special Award for Promoting Gender Equality. Jury Statement. (Award)
We would like to start by congratulating the Sarajevo Film Festival with their high-quality selection for this category. This selection consisted of an eclectic mix of features, documentaries as well as short films. All films are made by female directors and are either debuts of second films. All of the seven films we have watched are highly qualitative, which made it even more difficult to choose one winning film.
However, the film we are awarding tonight for Promoting Gender Equality is probably the bravest and most daring one in this competition. We unanimously agreed on this film not only being timely and timeless at once, but also being an exceptional work of cinematic power and artistic quality. This bold cinematic as well as literary work shows us the sincere danger of dehumanizing the other, no matter the region or time we live in. It’s rigorous, mesmerising and at times incredibly difficult to watch, with acting of astonishing virtuosity, the film takes us on a journey of brutality and evil. With its relentless testimonies that depict the bodies of women becoming an instrument of power, the film also addresses the fate of gender in an environment of aggression and crime. Through anonymising the gruesome events described, the film universalises them – making an articulate argument for peace. It’s unforgettable – incredibly disturbing and at the same time essential viewing. For all generations now and to come. We award the prize to DE FACTO by Selma Doborac.
Members of the Jury: Jay Van Hoy (Producer, USA), Nashen Moodley (Director of the Sydney Film Festival, Australia), Mila Schlingemann (Head of Programming at Eye Filmmuseum, Netherlands)
Sarajevo Film Festival. Special Award for Promoting Gender Equality. Jurybegründung.
Zunächst möchten wir dem Sarajevo Film Festival zu einer hochwertigen Auswahl in dieser Kategorie gratulieren. Die Auswahl bestand aus einer eklektischen Mischung aus Spielfilmen, Dokumentarfilmen und Kurzfilmen. Alle Filme sind von Regisseurinnen gemacht und sind entweder Debüts oder zweite Filme. Alle sieben Filme, die wir gesehen haben, sind von hoher Qualität, was es für uns schwierig gemacht hat einen Gewinnerfilm auszuwählen.
Der Film, den wir heute Abend für Promoting Gender Equality auszeichnen, ist wahrscheinlich der mutigste und gewagteste Film in diesem Wettbewerb. Wir waren uns einstimmig einig, dass dieser Film nicht nur zeitgemäß und zeitlos zugleich ist, sondern auch ein außergewöhnliches Werk von filmischer Kraft und künstlerischer Qualität darstellt. Dieses sowohl filmisch als auch literarisch kühne Werk zeigt uns die ernsthafte Gefahr der Entmenschlichung des Anderen, unabhängig von Region oder Zeit, in der wir leben.
Das Werk ist rigoros, fesselnd und gleichzeitig manchmal unglaublich schwer anzusehen, mittels Schauspiels von erstaunlicher Virtuosität nimmt der Film uns auf eine Reise der Brutalität und des Bösen mit. Unter Einsatz von schonungslosen Zeugenaussagen, die mitverdeutlichen, wie die Körper von Frauen zu Machtinstrumenten werden, thematisiert der Film auch das Schicksal der Geschlechter in einem Umfeld von Aggression und Kriminalität. Durch Anonymisierung der geschilderten grausamen Ereignisse, legt der Film ihre universelle Gültigkeit frei – und formuliert eine deutliche These für Frieden. Er ist unvergesslich – unglaublich verstörend und gleichzeitig eine essenzielle Seherfahrung. Für alle Generationen jetzt und in Zukunft. Wir vergeben den Preis an DE FACTO von Selma Doborac.
Mitglieder der Jury: Jay Van Hoy (Produzent, USA), Nashen Moodley (Leiter des Sydney Film Festival, Australien), Mila Schlingemann (Leiterin des Programms beim Eye Filmmuseum, Niederlande)