Shane Croghan reviews Dearbhla Glynn’s powerful documentary The War Against Women in Eastern Congo, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
The War Against Women in Eastern Congo is a harrowing, unflinching look at the horrendous acts of sexual violence which are perpetuated with staggering frequency in the war-torn Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Through her brave exploration of a nation in seemingly endless turmoil, director Dearbhla Glynn has produced a powerful, eye-opening documentary.
Glynn leaves no stone unturned as she delves into the scattered populace of Eastern Congo to conduct interviews with everyone from victims to perpetrators to military generals, visiting conflict-stricken villages and overcrowded, under-policed prisons. The victims, women of all ages, some shockingly young, speak bravely, and frankly, of their horrific experiences and the consequences which have resulted from their sexual assaults. Resisting the temptation to blink, and look away for even a moment, Glynn’s camera is concentrated, unmoving, as these women recount their tales. As the camera remains fixed, the viewer feels the pain of these victims, unfiltered and raw.
Keen to examine the exorbitant rates of sexual violence from a diverse range of perspectives, Glynn has also attained, perhaps at some risk to her own safety, interviews with some of the men who have committed the rapes, at one point even bringing her camera into a ramshackle, overcrowded prison. These men appear remorseless, as if they cannot grasp the true nature of their actions, evidencing the deeply engrained use of rape as weapon in Congolese military culture. The actions of the soldiers stem from the hopelessness of their own bleak existence, with many drafted into the conflict as children and forced to follow the example of cruel, barbaric leaders. The cyclical nature of their abhorrent acts becomes somewhat clear when we begin to understand the context of their military service and the reality of day-to-day existence in Eastern Congo.
Amongst the soldiers and countless fractured military groups, The War Against Women in Eastern Congo manages to find one of its most intriguing protagonists, Mamadou Ndala, a colonel in the FARDC. A rare breed of military leader, tactically brilliant and morally sound, Mamadou is keen to put an end to the sexual violence which has characterised much of the conflict, going as far as punishing his soldiers if they commit acts of sexual assault. Inevitably, like many of his ilk, he is brutally cut down before he can begin to impose his envisaged changes upon a corrupt system. One of the few glimmers of hope present in the film, he is extinguished and the brutality rages on, unimpeded.
The War Against Women in Eastern Congo is a difficult, draining experience for the viewer, as is necessary for the correct handling of such a troubling topic. Dearbhla Glynn keeps the bells and whistles to a minimum, employing a realistic tone throughout, to ensure that nothing of the violence is lessened in its transition to the screen. Her directorial style is entirely befitting of the subject matter and the resulting film benefits greatly from her desire to document the experience of both victims and perpetrators. As well as highlighting the rampant sexual violence in Eastern Congo, this documentary serves as a stark reminder of the ramifications of long-lasting conflict and the horror of war in general.
The War Against Women in Eastern Congo screened on Friday, 8th July 2016 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.