Reenactment and Critical History

Reenactment as a mode of inquiry about the past and as a broader cultural form in cinema, theater and television has become prevalent across the world. For example, reenactments of the American civil war, of WWI and WWII have become to tourist attractions in the USA, which at times aspire to rewrite history so as to reshape the historical narrative. Numerous television programs such as 1000 Ways to Die, Justice By Any Means, Disappeared, The Trench, The Great War, resort to reenactments to reexamine, investigate and reevaluate certain small and large-scale historical events and social experiences. Considering the performative attributes of reenactment, it is not surprising to discover that it remains an important mode of practice in theater and performance art. From Brecht’s Lehrstücke to Augusto Boal’s theater of the oppressed, and the Wooster group’s recent performance of the Town Hall Affair, this mode of performative practice has been used as a means of providing an analytical rather than mimetic dimension to the act of representation. The raison d’être behind this approach is that the audience is encouraged to focus not just on the depicted actions on stage, but on broader social and historical processes and the endurance of past contradictions in the present; these can be explored or uncovered through stylized reenactment. In cinema, reenactment is an artistic practice dating from the early days of the medium. From Robert J. Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922), to Jean Rouch’s, Errol Morris’ and Peter Watkins’ films, reenactment remains a staple of many documentary filmmakers. Brian Winston suggests that reenactment is part and parcel of the documentary aesthetic, since reconstruction is a constitutive element of documentaries concerned with questions from the past. [1] Dealing with traumatic history through reenactment is also a frequent practice in documentary cinema. Exemplary in this respect is Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985), a film that restages and reenacts moments from the Nazi machinery of terror not in order to depict the past convincingly and master it but with the view to problematizing the horror of the camps and our knowledge of it through its re-performing.

Twenty-first century films such as S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (Panh, 2003) and The Act of Killing (Cynn, Oppenheimer, 2012) owe a lot to the abovementioned filmmakers. The difference, however, is that these films have focused on the reenacted performances of the perpetrators. In doing so, they seek to place acts of mass extermination in a historical context and explore how in repeating acts of torture and murder on the part of the perpetrators, a film can urge the audience understand the broader mechanisms of terror that motivated them. Although this approach has raised numerous ethical questions it can be productive because it can trouble the past in ways that enable us to see persistent and unexpected continuities between past traumatic historical episodes and the historical present. [2] What merits further consideration is that the reenactment of past horrors can generate counter-histories that have been repressed. This is in keeping with Joshua Oppenheimer and Michael Uwemedimo’s (the director and producer of The Act of Killing) stance, who have described their modus operandi as “‘perverse’ performances of official history” that “contravene the generic imperatives of official history while nevertheless acting in its name and acting out its routines.” [3] In drawing attention to the routine violence of the winners of history, the reenacted performances of killings allow for a structural understanding of the historical conditions of terror instead of reducing it to isolated acts of some deranged individuals.

The aim of this article is to join the scholarly conversation on documentary reenactment and history by focusing on two recent films, which also reenact scenes from problematic historical events shown from the perpetrators’ points of view. While much discussion has revolved around reenactment as a mode of inquiry that enables us to commemorate the victims of the past, I am interested in looking at how documentary reenactment can help us recover untold stories from the past with the view to troubling linear approaches to history rooted in the Enlightenment paradigm. In doing so, I intend to go beyond the memory studies debates which have become dominant in the academy. Unlike, this scholarly approach that tends to commemorate the victims from the past to justify the existing state of things, I explore how reenactment films disturb the linearity of time to expose the ongoing persistence of social and political contradictions responsible for past historical horrors. I draw on the theater/performance theorist Rebecca Schneider, who argues that reenactments can produce “otherwise realized futures” that may call the past and the present into question. [4] I suggest that this modus operandi tallies with the Nietzschean idea of critical history. In his essay “On the use and abuse of history for life” Nietzsche criticizes the degradation of history to a mere scientific study that does not connect with the present. He suggests that the study of history can be fruitful provided that it serves life and offers a vision for the present and the future. Nietzsche’s central point is that the study of the historical past should not be a matter of musealization, that is, of divorcing history from the contradictions of the present. Instead, studying the past becomes fruitful when it acts as a catalyst that can enable us to challenge the present and change it.

Thinking in these terms requires going beyond the “memory boom” in the Humanities. While much of the work in the field has been valuable, it has also perpetuated a scholarly tendency to oppose history and memory; thus, it has refuted to offer a broader interpretative framework that can allow us to understand traumatic memories as part of a web of historical interconnections and not as isolated phenomena. This understanding of memory as something which is “in fundamental opposition” with history has been influential not just in the study of film and history but also in the political debate. [5] For instance, many historians understand the Holocaust as the reference point for a common political European identity. [6] Critics of this approach have argued that when it comes to matters of memory “one person’s use is another person’s abuse”, something that renders the potential of a shared European memory problematic. [7] For instance, certain countries which participated in the Holocaust tend to forget their responsibility due to their historical experience of state socialist oppression that followed their defeat in WWII.

The inherent danger behind the valorization of memory as something divorced from history is that different historical memories are not seen as part of a broader historical narrative that can offer a basis for knowing not just what happened but also routes to understanding the reasons why. This is the reason why hackneyed debates regarding the unmastery of traumatic pasts have been exhausted and raised questions concerning whose traumas are worthwhile recollecting. [8] In a public intervention in 2005, the renowned historian Eric Hobsbawm[9] highlighted that such a mindset can lead to a postmodern helplessness that translates to the motto ““my truth is as valid as yours, whatever the evidence””. The challenge for Hobsbawm is to use history not as a means of holding an empathetic attachment to the past, but as a way of overcoming analogous contradictions in the present and the future. It is in this light that contemporary historians such as Michael Rothberg have emphasized the need to reunite memory with history so as to avoid a pointless competition of memories and try to bring together diverse legacies and narratives of violence with the view to identifying their interconnectedness. [10] In a recent intervention, Enzo Traverso has cogently argued that memory can be productive when it is mobilized not just to honor the victims of the past, but also to “fight the executioners of the present.” [11] His comments coincide with other scholars’ acknowledgement that the fetishistic attachment to the past indicates a political crisis in the present and the absence of “all future-oriented or utopian projects for political change.”[12]

My case studies are two films heavily influenced by The Act of Killing in that they also attempt to show history from the perpetrators’ points of view: Anja Kofmel’s Chris the Swiss (2018) and Radu Jude’s I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians (2018). The starting point for the first film is a personal story, Kofmel’s fascination with her journalist cousin Chris Würtenberg, who died in Croatia while reporting for Swiss TV/radio stations. Würtenberg, who had a flair for adventure, ended up joining the Prvi internacionalni vod (PIV) a group of right-wing mercenaries who sided with the Croats in the Yugoslavian civil war. It is not quite certain whether he joined them because he wanted to take sides in a senseless war, as many journalists of the time did, or because he wanted to undermine the PIV from within and disclose its links and funding in Western Europe. His background as a volunteer for the Apartheid regime in Namibia further troubles his image. Yet Kofmel’s attempt to reconstruct his story by drawing on his diaries, sketches, and interviews allows an untold story to emerge regarding the role of the international community and the Catholic Church in the funding of right-wing mercenaries in the Yugoslavian civil war. A war that was for many years seen as something uniquely linked to the troubling history of the Balkans is situated within a wider history of Western European intervention showing how the reactivation of horrors comparable to the Second World War during the Yugoslavian conflict need to be placed within a broader context of geopolitical divisions and tensions in Europe as a whole. The film’s style that merges animation to reconstruct key events from Würtenberg’s experience with live action interviews is in the intersection of reality and fiction. We see the reenacted events in animation from his point of view, since the filmmaker draws on his diaries and sketches to reenact the past. Reenactment therefore turns into a tool for research and not for the faithful reproduction of historical actions.

The film’s topic needs to be understood against the backdrop of the resurgence of the far-right following the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the active participation of international extremist volunteers who joined either the Serbian or the Croatian side. In Serbia, the collapse of Yugoslavia led to the revival of the četnici (Chetniks) extreme-right paramilitary units. These right-wing groups were heteroclite, consisting of nationalists, football hooligans, but also of volunteers from Russia and Greece. In Croatia, the civil war brought about a revival of Ustaša, a fascist, ultranationalist organization that collaborated with the Nazis in WWII. Many international right-wing volunteers from England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Hungary and Australia joined the Croatian forces. Consequently, both embattled sides attracted large numbers of international neo-fascist volunteers. Věra Stojarová explains that the revival of nationalist and neo-fascist movements in the states that emerged from the breakup of Yugoslavia “proclaimed the traditions of the older pre-revolutionary nationalistic and xenophobic movements, into which they imported elements taken from Western European right-wing extremism.” [13] Meanwhile the Bosnian side is estimated to have attracted around 5,000 foreign Islamist fighters many of whom had previously fought in the Afghan war against the Soviet Union. [14] The peculiarity of this war was that both the Serbian and the Croatian side targeted the Bosnian Muslims, even though the Croats had initially allied with them. Religious hatred and ideological extremism were key motives for the perpetration of atrocities and war crimes.

In trying to reconstruct her cousin’s story, Kofmel’s film unveils this culture of extremism and the Western complicity in acts of ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslavian civil war. It also successfully shows how the collapse of Communism gave rise to revisionist historical tendencies that aimed at the rehabilitation of problematic paramilitary movements, such as the Ustaša. Writing in 1993, Slavenka Drakulić commented how the revival of fascism in Croatia was interconnected with a desire to remove all the monuments that pointed to the antifascist Communist resistance of WWII.

For there is more to this purge than the blowing up, destroying tucking away of communist and or antifascist monuments; more than the removal of memorial plaques from buildings and walls. Here is also the visible, although not official, celebration of 10 April, the day of the birth of the fascist state, the naming of streets and schools after Mile Budak, who indeed was a writer, but also a minister of culture and education in Pavelić’s government who personally signed racist anti-Jewish laws. There is the naming of Croatian army brigades after Ustashe war criminals, and graffiti in Split that says: ‘Death to the Jews’, which has been there for a year now. There is the flood of history books telling the ‘truth’ about the heroic role of Ante Pavelić, and the naming of the new currency: now it is called the kuna, just as it was in the days of the fascist state. [15]

Presently, this rehabilitation of extremists from the past concurs with a rightward turn in European politics and the delegitimization of histories of antifascism. Kristen Ghodsee has discussed how individuals such as the Serb Nazi collaborator Dragoljub Mihailovic, the Bulgarian minister who “signed the deportation orders for over eleven thousand Jews from Bulgarian-occupied Trace and Macedonia”, the Hungarian pro-Nazi Bálint Hóman responsible for war crimes against the Jewish minority, and Ukrainian Nazi collaborators who took an active part “in the slaughter of Poles or Jews have been recently exonerated by the governments of their countries. [16] Within this context, Chris the Swiss’ examination of the culture of right-wing mercenaries during the Yugoslavian civil war is timely in the sense that it may help us consider how the resurgence of the extreme right in many Central/Eastern European countries cannot be disconnected from the geopolitical changes that followed the fall of the Berlin War. For as Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli aptly explains, while the velvet revolutions of 1989 were declared as democratic victories both by Western and Eastern commentators, for many East/Central Europeans this implied the “return to a “good old”” “social order”, or the excuse to whitewash their own histories of violence. [17]

Similarly, from this perspective, I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians also probes issues of historical revisionism and amnesia and like The Act of Killing from which Jude has been inspired, it engages with narratives of official history so as to counteract them and reveal uncomfortable histories of violence. It tells the story of Mariana (Ioana Iacob), an idealistic theater director who intends to reenact the Romanian massacre of thousands of Jews in Odessa in 1941. Not unlike Kofmel’s film, which also recognizes the difficulty in bridging the past with the present, Jude’s film focuses on a fictional reenactment of a real occurrence, so as to challenge Romania’s historical amnesia regarding its role in the Holocaust. The title of the film is a quotation attributed to the Nazi collaborator marshal Ion Antonescu, who urged his soldiers to show no mercy towards the Jewish population in Odessa without worrying how history will judge them. Throughout the film, we see Mariana researching on the subject, quoting historical and literary resources varying from Karl Marx to Hannah Arendt, while simultaneously facing the animosity of many actors and city officials, who try to convince her to soften the portrayal of the Romanian army in the reenacted performance.

The historical context for the film is both the massacre of the Jews by the Romanians during the Romanian Eastern campaign and the contemporary culture of denial and rehabilitation of numerous pro-fascist and anti-Jewish historical figures such as Ion Antonescu. Historians have shown that the war on the Eastern front was seen by Romania as an opportunity to recover lost territories from the Soviet Union but also a key opportunity for annihilating the Jewish population in the area. As Simon Geissbühler explains:

The mass murder of Jews was by no means an accidental ‘byproduct’ of the war. It was intentional and planned. Ion Antonescu, who came to power in early September 1940 and led Romania into the Second World War alongside Germany, was not a blind follower. Not only was he an antisemite, but he also had his own ideas regarding an expanded Romanian Lebensraum (living space) in the East. In Germany’s Eastern Campaign he saw a unique opportunity for Romania to reclaim Bukovina and Bessarabia and ‘purge’ this new ‘Great Romania’ of Jews. [18]

The brutality of the Romanian army as well as of the civilians participating in pogroms was deplorable. Historians estimate that around 270,000 Jews were murdered by the Romanian forces in Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Transnistria. Antonescu’s anti-Semitism was so passionate that he is alleged to have complained in 1941 that Germany was slow in settling the Jewish problem. As Radu Ioanid says, Antonescu “urged his lieutenants to hasten Romania’s solution to its side of the question: “Put them in the catacombs, put them in the Black Sea. I don’t want to hear anything. It does not matter if one hundred or one thousand die; [for all I care] they can all die.”” [19] It is important to emphasize that following the collapse of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime in 1989 there has been a rehabilitation of Antonescu coupled with a historical amnesia of the crimes he orchestrated. The film addresses this issue by showing TV shows and films that offer a hagiography of the Romanian marshal. One of those included in the narrative is Sergiu Nicolaescu’s Oglinda (The Mirror, 1994) a period revisionist drama that presents a positive image of Antonescu.  Veronica Lazar and Andrei Gorzo suggest that Jude intentionally mocks Nikolaescu, an opportunist director whose aesthetics of “historical authenticity” were in service of narratives of official history: “His version of mythical Romanian history was always subordinated to the interests of political power – first Ceaușescu’s and then post-communist power.” [20] Puzzled and confused, the famous Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote in 2000:

“How to understand the popularity of Antonescu after the fall of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu? Streets bearing his name, statues erected, elected officials observing a moment of silence to honor his memory: has the nation then so quickly forgotten his bloody misdeeds, the atrocities he ordered, his crimes against humanity, and his death sentence?” [21]

I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians endeavours to shed light into this uncomfortable part of Romanian history, but also to address its contemporary implications; the film deals both with the culture of denial on the part of contemporary Romanians and the recent idolization of problematic historical figures. The narrative addresses these topics through Mariana’s desire to reenact the 1941 Odessa massacre so as to raise awareness in the population regarding the country’s uncomfortable history. Importantly, given that significant screen time is spent showing Mariana researching about the topic and assessing the ethics of representation, reenactment is the film’s subject matter.[22] Towards the end, she manages to restage the Odessa massacre only to bitterly realize that instead of being provoked to think about this bleak historical episode, the audience turns out to cheer the actors impersonating the Romanian soldiers as they reenact the Odessa massacre. The film is a fictional one but about a director who researches material on a real occurrence. The reenactment taking place towards the end is not staged by people who participated in the portrayed events. Yet despite the film’s fictional quality it also has a documentary one given that it attempts to challenge the Romanian audience to think of the country’s own complicity with the Nazi regime and the contemporary tendency to erase Romania’s insidious role in the Holocaust. There are certainly Brechtian undertones in the film’s style as have been acknowledged by Andrei Gorzo and Veronica Lazar, who have explained Jude’s debt to political modernism and how the narrative trope of the director/researcher acts as reflection on questions of history and representation.[23] Diana Popa has also discussed the film’s inclusion of “heterogenous media, such as archival photography and footage, to provide ‘evidence’ about the past while also reflecting on historical truth’s fragility to propagandistic manipulation”.[24] Popa’s comments are illuminating despite seeing the film as a unique exception and not as part of a broader tradition. After all, as Julian Murphet has shown, intermediality was part and parcel of the twentieth-century modernist cultures, to which the film is indebted to.[25]

The film’s generic hybridity tallies with the hybrid quality of reenactment, which as scholars have noted, crosses the boundaries of reality and fiction.[26] The fact that none of the actors/participants in Rude’s film had firsthand experience of the historical reality reenacted on screen means that the process of making the film turns into a learning experience, which is subsequently remediated to the audience. In this way, the boundaries between the diegetic and the meta-level of representation become blurred, because the storyline also registers Mariana as she gets to learn more about this untold chapter of Romanian history. I wish also to pinpoint that artifice is an essential part of reenactment as evidenced even in films, in which the participants were present in the historical events they try to reconstruct. Lanzmann’s Shoah is a relevant example. One needs to recall the much talked about scene with the barber Abraham Bolba, who discusses his experience in Treblinka while cutting someone’s hair. Eventually, we learn that the barbershop has been rented by the film’s production team and the customers are extras with no knowledge of the English language. Lanzmann aimed to make him relive the scene so as to communicate the experience albeit with the aid of artifice. This is the reason why he described the project as ““a fiction of the real””, according to which the performance of the historical experience is equally important as the described events and recollected memories. [27]

To return to Jude’s project, the film can, therefore, be understood as a documentary drama, a term introduced by Steven N. Lipkin, Derek Paget and Jane Roscoe. As they explain, the term describes films/TV programs that use “a wholly invented sequence of events, and fictional protagonists, in order to illustrate the salient features of actual occurrences or situations.” [28] As they explain, the term documentary in this case can be a matter of style (how the film looks) or of content (the historical significance of the film’s subject-matter). Jude’s film can be seen as a documentary in both respects. Firstly, it elaborates on a real historical occurrence. Secondly, its style, which follows the tradition of Marxist cinema and echoes the work of Straub/Huillet, serves also a documentary aesthetic, because the emphasis is more on the investigation of resources that can shed some light on history rather than on dramatic actions.

Kofmel’s film instead can be seen as a drama documentary, that is, a film that “uses the sequence of events from a real historical occurrence or situation, and the identities of its principal protagonists, to underpin a film script intended to provoke debate about the significance of the events/occurrence.” [29] Kofmel tries to reassemble the past by resorting to Würtenberg’s testimonies, TV reports, clips from other documentaries, and interviews with journalists, and war mercenaries who were in the same unit as her cousin. What distinguishes the restaged scenes from the past is that they are animated, something that recalls Ari Forman’s Waltz with Bashir (2008), an animated documentary that revives the filmmaker’s memories from the Lebanon war and particularly the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which went on for three days in September 1982. Forman’s choice to tell the story in animation blurs the boundaries between the real and the imaginary or in Ohad Landesman and Roy Bendor’s Heideggerian terms “the factual and the factical”. [30] In doing so, the filmmaker equally underlines the historical incident and the representational challenge of retrieving that experience; this approach conflates the revived historical events with a meditation on the limits of representation. [31]

Likewise, the animated sequences in Chris the Swiss try to retrace Würtenberg’s journey in Croatia using expressionistic and surrealistic imagery and mood. Animated reenactment is therefore used, to invoke Annabelle Honess Roe’s work on animated documentary, “as a substitute for missing live-action material.” [32] In doing so, the film does not aim for epistemological clarity and coherence but acknowledges its own partial engagement with the past and the filmmaker’s difficulty in discovering what truly happened. As Kofmel notes, “I decided to mix animation and documentary in order to cope with the complex subject. I’m capturing my research and my encounters with contemporary witnesses by the means of classical documentary, whereas the animation allows me to interpret the story and bring the cruelty and despair of war to life in a subjective way.” [33] The contrast between the animated sequences and the traditional documentary tropes e.g. interviews and extracts from TV news produces a conflict that negates the presentation of a coherent image of the past. Just like Jude’s film, the filmmaker valorizes the process of researching that can enable us to connect material from history with the present, rather than the faithful restaging of the past that can give a sense of historical omniscience.

The Politics of Reenactment
In what follows, I am interested in focusing on some sequences from the two films to identify the ways they politicize the representation of history through reenactment. Bill Nichols has famously argued that the key contradiction of reenactments is that they aspire to retrieve an image of the past that is no longer available. Reenactments do not have pretensions of historical omniscience. They offer a specific view of the past and in doing so, they invite us to consider its effects on the present. What differentiates reenactments from other documentary films is that they have no indexical connection to the historical incidents to which they refer. This adds them a “fantasmatic quality” since they aim to achieve the impossible, that is, to repeat something unrepeatable. [34] The situation is rendered more complex when the past is revivified from the point of view of the perpetrators, albeit perpetrators whose voice is remediated by a filmmaker as it is the case in Kofmel’s and Jude’s film. In these instances, the perpetrators’ actions are reenacted so as to reassess their broader historical impact. This tallies with Rebecca Schneider’s point that the ultimate aspiration of reenactment is not the reproduction of historical facts that remain unalterable, but ways of disturbing evolutionary time so as to subject the historical narratives to further scrutiny. The act of repeating past actions “suggests that it is in the future that our pasts await us: awaiting our response, awaiting our revisions, or even awaiting our refusal—waiting for the rebound or the redress.” [35] The past thus is not a closed book, but its repetition forces us to identify its aftereffects on the present and consider ways of altering it.

Kofmel’s modus operandi intentionally foregrounds the fantastic elements of her project with the view to troubling not just the story of her cousin and the Yugoslavian civil war, but of the contemporary present too asking questions about the persistence of social and historical contradictions that can allow chauvinism and right-wing extremism to reemerge. The key question that her project poses – how a young man from Switzerland joins a group of other Western reactionaries (as we get to hear from one of the French leaders of the unit – most of the volunteers came from England, France, and Germany) who are keen to associate themselves with the Ustaša nostalgics remains pertinent. The merit of her project lies precisely in its self-conscious acknowledgment of the inability to reenact inaccessible aspects of historical reality. This is fundamentally tied up with the fact that the reenacted sequences are animated. As Steve Fore has perceptively shown, unlike live action documentaries, those which make use of animated sequences rely on reenactment and refute the idea that indexicality is what renders a documentary accurate. [36] In other words, the lack of indexical connection with the historical incidents of the past, singled out by Nichols as a key feature of documentary reenactments, is intensified in the animated reenactments. Similarly, Annabelle Honess Roe suggests that reenactment is a key characteristic of animated documentaries and their lack of photographic evidentiary material does not diminish their epistemological effects, but widens the documentary field “by expanding the range of what and how we can learn.” [37]

Telling in this respect is one of the opening sequences, where the voice-over reads “I only know fragments of your story, just a few random details. The rest I have to imagine.” The animated image-track shows Würtenberg embarking on a train to Croatia. Here the tension between the past and its reenactment becomes clearly formalized. Things become more complicated given that the film does not really resolve the contradiction on whether Würtenberg joined the PIV to conduct journalistic research and expose its crimes to an international audience or out of ideological alignment. Kofmel leaves this question open suggesting at the same time that her cousin must have participated in acts of ethnic cleansing. [38]

One of the sequences that deserves special attention is an animated one that predates the film’s exposé of Würtenberg quitting journalism to join the PIV. We see Würtenberg spending time with two other journalists as they gaze at some local children playing football. When the children inadvertently throw the ball towards him, Würtenberg gets hold of it and as he returns the ball, a sudden explosion occurs. The mise-en-scène takes on an eerie dimension and we see Würtenberg floating confused in space. The little child we saw in the previous encounter approaches Würtenberg, who extends his hands to reach him only to discover that they are smeared with blood. In this eerie sequence, Kofmel deftly insinuates her cousin’s involvement in acts of violence. The portrait of Würtenberg offered in the reenacted sequence thus far has been one of a curious journalist dedicated to finding the causes behind the senseless violence in Yugoslavia. Then again, the interjection of pictures and documented images troubles this take on the character, since we get to learn that he had volunteered for the Apartheid regime in Namibia, but we also see pictures of him wearing the PIV Full Face Balaclava and participating in their military drills.

The visible contradictions between Würtenberg’s diaries read during the animated sequences and the documented images that follow acknowledge the impossibility of capturing all the details of the character’s personal story. But it is precisely thanks to the film’s inability to objectively revivify the character’s experiences that we get to know more about the political and historical details that emerge regarding the criminal activities of the PIV in the Yugoslavian civil war. At the same time, the central character is not portrayed as the archetype of excessive evil, but as the product of the machinery of terror, something that clearly recalls The Act of Killing.[39] A sequence that is remarkable in this respect captures him being coerced to kill an old woman after having successfully ambushed a group of Serbs. When the other members of the PIV challenge him to complete the task by murdering the lady, he reluctantly proceeds to do so. But the sequence is suddenly interrupted leaving the execution off-screen and making us infer that he has followed his superior’s orders. Later, Kofmel restages this sequence suggesting that he refused to conduct the murder provoking the fury of his superiors. The two sequences brilliantly encapsulate what Nichols describes as “the presence of fantasy in documentary.” [40] For Nichols, elements of fantasy are constitutive of reenactments because they deal with the dialectical contradiction of attempting to restage a past event while pointing simultaneously out that the represented material is not contemporary.

Obviously, the film is not necessarily concerned with tying up all the loose ends in the character’s story. The personal story operates instead as a vehicle for addressing the role of the European far right in the Yugoslavian war. Würtenberg also appears as a complex rather than one-dimensional persona. In segments of his diaries read in the film, we get to see his puzzlement and confusion at the senseless violence that characterized the Yugoslavian war. This complicated portraiture has twofold implications: firstly, it demonstrates how one can be caught up in the same problems that he is supposedly meant to solve. Secondly, it evokes a broader history of violence rooted in a desire to spread “Enlightenment” by force. Würtenberg is pictured as someone who joined the PIV because he could not accept the irrationality of the war. By providing us more information on the action of the PIV, the film subtly undermines the character’s motives for joining them. At the same time, it draws attention to the thin boundaries between Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment, showing how rational reasoning can easily lapse into terror.

The film highlights the myths of rationality that we associate with European liberal democracy and societies when it delves into questions of the funding of the PIV operations. In one emblematic animated sequence that reenacts Würtenberg’s discovery of the role of the Catholic Church in the war, we get to see from the main character’s point of view the figure of Eduardo Rózsa-Flores (a Hungarian/Bolivian journalist who became a leader of the PIV) conversing with a Catholic priest. The sequence has an expressionist edge since it frames long dark corridors in unusual angles. Würtenberg searches for more material and ends up opening a door only to discover a giant Christian cross framed from a low angle perspective. Immediately, after this passage in the film, two journalists who had worked with Würtenberg – Heidi Rinke-Jarosch and Julio César Alonso – suggest that Opus Dei was involved in the funding of the PIV. Alonso explains how the international Brigade was a front for the recruitment of people who shared an extreme right-wing and Catholic ideology. The Catholic Church sought to take advantage of the religious dimension of the war to cement its influence in the new geopolitical environment. One is asked to question many of the myths of secularism surrounding post-war Western societies and the persistence of religious reflexes in moments of Western intervention in zones of conflict. Additionally, of interest here, are the implications of Western European intervention in a war that was pictured as Balkan specific by the Western media. Things turn more complicated when a Spanish explosives expert, who was a PIV instructor during the war, lets slip while being interviewed by Kofmel that the group received money from the Spanish government and various European right-wing parties. The film is a remarkable index of reenactment’s capacity to make us see the past anew with a critical eye. This recalls Schneider’s point regarding the performative aspect of reenactment. Schneider’s thesis is founded upon the productive potential of repeating something located in the past. “Repetition”, as she says, “is paradoxically, both the vehicle for sameness and the vehicle for difference or change.” [41]

Although Schneider is mainly focused on live performance reenactment, her point enables an approach to thinking about documentary reenactment not in terms of authenticity but of its capacity to allow for unexpected things to emerge through the process of restaging the past. One of the most acclaimed documentary reenactment directors, Errol Morris has made a similar point arguing that reenactments should debunk the ideology of the visible which is founded on the reproduction of empirical details. As he says:

“The kind of re-enactments I have in mind are not based on trying to fool you into believing that something is real that is not. Nor are they based on the suspension of disbelief. They are not asking us to suspend your disbelief in an artificial world that has been created expressly for their entertainment; they are asking the opposite of us – to study the relationship of an artificial world to the real world. [42]

This is certainly the approach that characterizes the work of Peter Watkins in the grandiose restaging of the Communards’ Revolution in Paris (1871) in his 345 minutes long La Commune (Paris, 1871) (2000). In this film, the people participating in the restaging of the revolutionary experiment of the universal republic reflect on the relevance of the Commune in the present in the process of reenacting it. In doing so, they are encouraged to make connections between the past conditions of inequality that led to the Commune uprising and consider how they resonate with the contemporary reality of neoliberal capitalism. Similarly, in the critically acclaimed film The Act of Killing, the reenactment of the murderous massacres of Communists, ethnic Chinese, militant feminists and trade unionists by Sukarto’s supporters and the army act as a pretext for the investigation of the visible traces of the past in the contemporary present. In his discussion of the film, Robert Sinnerbrink cogently argues that the film’s meta-cinematic style brings together images from the past anti-communist propaganda with the present reality of contemporary Indonesia. [43]

Something analogous takes place in Jude’s film, which focuses on Mariana’s desire to reenact one of the most horrendous crimes in modern Romanian history not just with the intention to get the past right and commemorate it but with the view to identifying its pernicious resonances in the present. It is thus more concerned with the ethics and politics of representation rather than with the verisimilar reproduction of the Romanian Holocaust. The fictional director’s research, who stands in a way as the filmmaker’s double, is included within the film’s diegesis. The emphasis on the process rather than the finished product is also reinforced by Jude’s focus on the conflicts that arise in the process of rehearsing the reenactment. This idea of reenactment as critical research that allows different realities to emerge is best captured in the following remark where he states:

This isn’t a film about finding the truth, it’s a film about research,”. “I mean… what is that word… truth? I’m not against it. I’m not a postmodernist forcing a philosophical perspective on the audience, but I believe there are different types of truth. When you talk about algebra or mathematics there’s a precise truth, but it’s not the same when you speak about history. [44]

Jude’s point invites us to consider the social mediatedness of national memory, which can be selective and ignore uncomfortable moments in history that do not confirm the official narrative of the present. For instance, when Mariana responds to present-day deniers with information on the Odessa massacre, she gets asked why she does not restage instead something about people’s oppression during the Ceaușescu era. Her response is that this is “comparative trivialization”: a country is unwilling to face its own crimes by constructing a narrative of victimhood that affects its own sense of history. This point resurfaces later when Movila (Alexandru Dabija), a city official, suggests to her that military reenactments should aim at commemorating the fallen. When Mariana retorts that this is her aspiration, he responds that he implies the heroic Romanian soldiers, who are negatively portrayed in her work.

By focusing on the contradictions that emerge during the preparations/rehearsals of the theatrical reenactment taking place within the diegesis, the film adroitly addresses questions of historical amnesia. Jude’s desire to reveal the chasm between official history and suppressed histories recalls Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica’s Videogramme einer Revolution (Videograms of a Revolution, 1992). In one emblematic moment in Videograms, Farocki and Ujica, whose film consists mainly of found image from the Revoluția Română (Romanian Revolution), muse on the contrast between the national television’s broadcast of Nikolae Ceaușescus’ last speech, which was interrupted by thousand protesters. As the voice-over explains, the television paused the live transmission of the event, while later the broadcast was restored without sound. Furthermore, the cameras, instead of capturing Ceaușescus’ puzzled response to the protests, were tilted towards the sky following official instructions. In juxtaposing different documents from newsreels crews and amateur videos, Farocki and Ujica invite us to think about history from below as opposed to official documentations of historical incidents.

Jude also focuses on histories from below aiming to reveal the untold story of Romania’s complicity in the Holocaust and the persistence of pernicious social structures in the present. For example, in the course of the rehearsals, some actors keen on impersonating the persecuted Jews react to the fact that there are Roma actors performing with them. Others are captivated by “the beauty” of the SS uniforms and some accuse Mariana of not respecting the memory of Antonescu. Gender issues also emerge that have to do with the actors’ distrust towards the director because she is a woman. One can see how the process of attempting to restage the past reveals important conflicts in the present.

In this way, I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians (and indeed Chris the Swiss) can be firmly placed within what Sylvie Jasen calls reenactment as event. For Jasen, films belonging to this category are less concerned with how the reconstructed acts relate to the original event. They highlight instead the act of performing the past in the present and the process of staging. In doing so, they underplay questions of authenticity in favor of research. Their aim is to reveal “how the past informs, continues in, and affects the present rather than reconstructs an objective entity fixed in the past.” [45] This is clearly underscored towards the film’s finale where a reenactment of the Odessa massacre is staged in front of the public and the oblivious city officials who expect an event commemorating the fallen Romanian soldiers. This sequence is intentionally shot in video resembling a news report and this choice produces a pseudo-documentary aesthetic. Here, Jude blurs the boundaries between the meta-level of the film’s intradiegetic reenactment, the intradiegetic responses of the fictional audience attending the reenactment and the extra-diegetic reality of the resurgence of the extreme right and the reanimation of past prejudices and chauvinisms in Europe. Exemplary in this respect are the restaged reenactments of the Jewish massacres by the Romanian army. While Mariana anticipates shocking the audience into thinking about an unacknowledged part of Romanian history, we see the public cheering at the reenacted scenes of terror. When an actor performing a Jewish elderly man who tries to escape, breaks the reenactment’s fourth wall and heads intentionally towards the audience to ask for help, the spectators push him violently back towards the (fictional) Romanian soldiers. Later, the audience applauds a reenacted scene where Antonescu orders the army to burn the incarcerated Jews alive. In its commingling of the diegetic, the meta and the extra-diegetic levels, this sequence reveals the afterlives of the past in the present.

Evident here is the influence from the The Act of Killing, where the performances of past horrors by the perpetrators reveal continuities between Suharto’s regime and the existing state of affairs in Indonesia. Commenting on this film Nichols argues that this representational complexity withholds the security given by a reaffirmation of our ““usually accepted categories of truth and falsity”” and demonstrates the importance of combining the diegetic with the meta-diegetic level of representation to reflect on historical attitudes that persist throughout history. [46] Something analogous occurs in I do not Care where a theatrical reenactment within the film’s fiction leads to the production of gestures and behaviors that demonstrate the persistence of attitudes/outlooks linked with the county’s past. The veracity of these sequences lies in the fact that the chauvinistic actions of the fictional audience in Mariana’s reenactment could well take place in the extra-diegetic universe of the emboldened European far-right.

In other words, the dialectics between reality and fiction blurs not because the extra-diegetic audience cannot distinguish between the two levels, but precisely because this restaged reenactment highlights a real problem, namely the present culture of denial in parts of Eastern and Central Europe. As Enzo Traverso explains Eastern and Central European countries emphasize their experience of Soviet oppression ignoring at the same time their complicity in WWII crimes. As he says:

Depicting themselves as representatives of nation-victims, the governments of Central Europe leave a marginal place to the memory of the Holocaust, which appears as a kind of competitor and as an obstacle to a complete acknowledgment of their suffering. This contrast is paradoxical because the extermination of the Jews did take place in this part of the continent: it was there that the great majority of the victims lived and the Nazis created ghettos and death camps. [47]

Traverso’s point takes on a new significance when considering the recent developments in Eastern and Central Europe. Consider for instance, the governing Law and Justice Party in Poland, which has criminalized references to Polish complicity in the Holocaust or the Hungarian far-right’s embracement of the legacy of the Arrow Cross. The collapse of Communism has not necessarily brought about a more rounded view of these countries’ history, leading to an obsession with a vision of the past rather than the future; this occurrence is also to be attributed to their conditions of structural underdevelopment that have frustrated the post-1989 optimism that the transition to capitalism would bring higher living standards.

But the film also jolts us into an awareness of how restaging the past allows a plethora of untold stories to reemerge that can offer insights into contemporary unequal geopolitical relations. For instance, in a prolonged dialogue that has the form of dialectical exchanges between Marina and Movila, the latter asks her if she is aware of the Herero and Nama genocide on the part of the German empire in the beginning of the twentieth century. As he tells her, “I was thinking of a serious Darwinism of massacres. Only the fittest massacre survives in the collective consciousness”. We can here return to Schneider’s idea that reenactment allows us to rethink the past’s alternative futures and the future of the past so as to transform the present and think about the enduring reality of colonial modernity not just in the material conditions of the enforced forms of unequal exchange, but also in terms of the agency in history writing and collective consciousness. [48] Whose history do we remember and why? If anything, this question underlines the importance of Michael Rothberg’s abovementioned point that traumatic memories need to be seen as part of a broader “multidirectional memory” that can help us avoid memory competitions that can produce an unproductive “hierarchy of suffering.” [49]

Reenactment and Critical History
The deployment of reenactment as research in both films discussed in this essay does not simply aspire to commemorate the victims of the past horrors as it happens ad nauseam these days. Instead, Kofmel and Jude resort to the past to address questions related to the present. This is the reason why we can see their films through the prism of Nietzsche’s critical history, a history not concerned simply with studying the past but one that aspires to offer a vision of the present and the future. Nietzsche raises the alarm that “an excess of history” can reduce it to a series of dead facts – mere scientism with no effect on the material conditions of the present. Against the monumental history that fetishizes the past at the expense of the present and the antiquarian history which venerates tradition he proposes a critical history that “judges and condemns.”

The need is not that of the mere thinkers who only look on at life, or the few who desire knowledge and can only be satisfied with knowledge; but it has always a reference to the end of life, and is under its absolute rule and direction. This is the natural relation of an age, a culture and a people to history; hunger is its source, necessity its norm, the inner plastic power assigns its limits. The knowledge of the past is only desired for the service of the future and the present, not to weaken the present or undermine a living future. All this is as simple as truth itself, and quite convincing to anyone who is not in the toils of “historical deduction.” [50]

What Nietzsche tells us about the study of history is extremely timely coming at a historical period in which the study of the past has been completely divorced of any radical visions for the present and the future. Nietzsche’s view of a critical history “that judges and condemns” corresponds with the Benjaminian critique of historicism that reduces history to a series of evolutionary stages. Against this, Benjamin proposed a materialist non-linear view of history concerned with reactivating past defeats not simply to commemorate them, but to use them to transform the present. As he says, “For every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably .” [51] This is the reason why I claim that reenactment films that invite us to see history through the prism of the perpetrators can be effective in revealing that the past is still with us and unless we use its lessons to transform the present, similar contradictions may reemerge that can re-inflame chauvinistic attitudes and actions.

Particularly pertinent is Nietzsche’s point that an excess of history can be the enemy of historical action in the present. [52] One can see, for example, how continuous references to the Holocaust in the last thirty years on the part of European politicians, academic historians and intellectuals have not necessarily prevented the rise of the far right in Europe and across the World. The problem is that the commemoration of this historical horror has been reduced to an empty ritual dedicated to the perpetuation of the status quo and is not deployed to enhance political participation and active citizenship. The troubling wave of historical amnesia that has sparked across Europe is a visible index of the need to impart the lessons from the past to revitalize political action in the present and not to leave it to the hands of “the experts” as per the neoliberal narrative.

Films reliant on reenactment as a means of troubling canonical visions of the past participate in a desire to challenge official history, uncover uncomfortable and suppressed legacies of violence, and identify productive interconnections between past events and contemporary contradictions. In doing so, they can provoke conflicts and debate. Chris the Swiss was received with hostility in Croatia following the election of the conservative government of Andrej Pienkovic and a few months prior its completion lost its allocated funding from the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. Kofmel explains that although the film was a Swiss-Croatian co-production, the change of government led “to Croatia not acknowledging Chris the Swiss as a Croatian movie.” [53] Jude has also confirmed that his film has polarized the audiences in Romania and fuelled debate about the Romanian Holocaust. [54] These are indices of Kofmel’s and Jude’s ability to challenge conformist historical discourses and doxas. I have argued in this paper that both films invite us to adopt a non-linear understanding of history and see how past contradictions have reemerged in the present because their root causes were never dealt with. Chris the Swiss and I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians resort to reenactment to challenge official histories and in doing so, they refuse an evolutionary approach to history according to which our contemporary reality has done away with the historical contradictions of the past. To paraphrase Rebecca Schneider, the battle for the “future of the past” should be committed to the revitalization of the political present and not the stabilization of the existing state of things.

Research for this article was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Grant Ref: AH/T005750/1. A draft of this paper was presented at the Film-Philosophy conference in Brighton, July 2019. Another draft of the paper was presented at the department of Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Nottingham Trent University on November 13, 2019. Many thanks to Martin O’Shaughnessy for the invitation and to the audience for their suggestions.


[1] Brian Winston, “‘Honest, Straightforward Re-enactment’: The Staging of Reality”, in Joris Ivens and the Documentary Context ed. Kees Bakker (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1999), p. 164.
[2] For critiques of this modus operandi see Robert Cribb, “The Act of Killing,” Critical Asian Studies 46, no 1 (2014): p. 147; Laurie J Sears, “Heroes as Killers or Killers as Heroes?” Critical Asian Studies 46, no 1 (2014): p. 205.
[3] Joshua Oppenheimer, Michael Uwemedimo, “Show of force: a cinema-séance of power and violence in Sumatra’s plantation belt,” Critical Quarterly, 51, no 1 (2009): p. 88.
[4] Rebecca Schneider, “That the Past May Yet Have Another Future: Gesture in the Times of Hands Up,” Theatre Journal 70, no 3 (2018): p. 300.
[5] Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire.” Representations, 26, no 1 (1989): p. 8.
[6] See Lothar Probst, “Founding myths in Europe and the role of the Holocaust.” New German Critique, 90 (2003): pp. 45–58; Aleida Assmann, “Europe: a community of memory?” GHI Bulletin 40 (2007): pp. 11–25.
[7] Peter Novick, “Comments on Aleida Assmann’s Lecture.” GHI Bulletin 40 (2007): p. 29.
[8] A major work that contends that traumatic memories can render the historical past unmasterable is Cathy Caruth’s, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (Baltimore, London: John Hopkins University Press, 1996).
For an in-depth critique of the memory boom see, Gavriel D Rosenfeld, “A Looming Crash or a Soft Landing? Forecasting the Future of the Memory “Industry”, The Journal of Modern History 81 no 1 (2009): pp. 122-158.
[9] Eric Hobsbawm, “In Defense of History.” The Guardian, January 15, 2005, Last accessed January 13, 2022.
[10] See Michael Rothberg, Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization, (California: Stanford University Press, 2009).
[11] Enzo Traverso, Left-Wing Melancholia Marxism, History, and Memory, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), p. 13.
Recent work in film studies has usefully reconnected questions of memory with history aiming to identify a narrative that can allow us to reencounter and understand a plethora of untold stories from world history not as isolated phenomena, but as interlinked ones. Emblematic in this respect is Max Silverman’s Palimpsestic Memory: The Holocaust and Colonialism in French and Francophone Fiction and Film (London: Berghahn, 2013), which discusses films and texts whose study can help us identify the links between the Holocaust and histories of colonial violence. Another significant work is David Martin-Jones’ study Cinema Against Doublethink: Ethical Encounters with the Lost Pasts of World History (New York: Routledge, 2018). This book invites us to think how World cinema can recover untold histories suppressed by the ongoing reality of colonial modernity, which keeps on perpetuating the division of the world into centers and peripheries generating conditions of development in the core countries and underdevelopment in the peripheral ones.
[12] Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, “A Looming Crash or a Soft Landing? Forecasting the Future of the Memory “Industry.” The Journal of Modern History 81, no 1 (2009): p. 135.
[13] Věra Stojarová, “The Extreme Right in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia,” in Mapping the Extreme Right in Contemporary Europe: From Local to Transnational ed. Andrea Mammone, Emmanuel Godin, Brian Jenkins, (London, New York: Routledge, 2012), p. 165.
See also the British TV documentary Inside Story: Dogs of War (BBC2 1992), Available,, last accessed October 21, 2019. This documentary follows a group of British mercenaries in the Yugoslavian Civil War.
[14] Jeanine de Roy van Zuijdewijn, Edwin Bakker, Returning Western Foreign Fighters: The Case of Afghanistan, Bosnia and Somalia (ICCT: the Hague, 2014), p. 5.
[15] Slavenka Drakulić, Cafe Europa: Life After Communism (London: Penguin, 1996), p. 151.
[16] Kristen Ghodsee, Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism (Durham: Duke: University Press, 2017), pp. 143-44.
[17] Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli, Mythopoetic Cinema: On the Ruins of European Identity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), p. 11.
[18] Simon Geissbühler, “The Rape of Jewish Women and Girls during the First Phase of the Romanian Offensive in the East, July 1941: A Research Agenda and Preliminary Findings,” Holocaust Studies A Journal of Culture and History 19, no 1 (2013): p. 60.
[19] Jadu Ioanid, The Holocaust in Romania: The Destruction of Jews and Gypsies Under the Antonescu Regime, 1940-1944. (Chicago: Ivan R Dee, 2000), p. 274.
[20] Veronica, Lazar, Andrei Gorzo, “An Updated Political Modernism: Radu Jude and I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians. Close Up: Film and Media Studies 3, no. 1-2 (2019): p. 11.
[21] Ellie Wiesel, “Foreword,” in Radu Ioanid, The Holocaust in Romania: The Destruction of Jews and Gypsies Under the Antonescu Regime, 1940-1944 (Chicago: Ivan R Dee, 2000), pp. viii-ix.
[22] This aspect of the film is in keeping with Megan Carrigy’s perceptive point that “the reenactment is always caught between two agendas. First, it sets out to be a repetition of a previous event. Second, it sets out to foreground itself as a reenactment and it does so by emphasizing its theatrical, performative nature.” Megan Carrigy, The Reenactment in Contemporary Screen Culture (New York Bloomsbury, 2021), p. 6.
[23] See Lazar, Gorzo, p. 10.
Jude has also acknowledged his influence from Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. As he says, “I love Straub and Huillet’s films primarily for the way they transform a text into a film, for their lack of commercial devices, and for their courage to be unpopular. In an art world dominated by the desire to be successful no matter what, it is inspiring to see someone like Straub or Huillet who doesn’t care about success.” Ela Bittencourt, “Interview: Radu Jude.” Film Comment (2018). Available online: Last accessed January 26, 2021.
[24] See Diana Popa, “Hopeless Didacticism: Archival Sources and Spectatorial Address in I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, Law, Culture and the Humanities (2019): pp. 1-22.
[25] See Julian Murphet, Multimedia Modernism: Literature and the Anglo-American Avant-Garde (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
[26] See Bill Nichols, Speaking Truths with Film: Evidence, Ethics, Politics in Documentary. Berkeley, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2016), 46; Ivone Margulies, In Person: Reenactment in Postwar and Contemporary Cinema (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), p. 8.
[27] Dominick, LaCapra, “Lanzmann’s “Shoah”: “Here There Is No Why,”” Critical Inquiry, 23, no. 2 (1997): p. 232.
[28] Steven N. Lipkin, Derek Paget, Jane Roscoe, “Docudrama and mock-documentary: defining terms, proposing canons,” in Docufictions: Essays on the Intersection of Documentary and Fictional Filmmaking ed. Gary Don Rhodes, John Parris (Springer. Jefferson: MacFarland, 2006), p. 15.
[29] Ibid, p. 15.
[30] Ohad Landesman, Roy Bendor, “Animated Recollection and Spectatorial Experience in Waltz with Bashir.” Animation 6, no 3 (2011): p. 355.
[31] Victoria Grace Walden rightly observes that one of the challenges of reviving past experiences and traumas is the absence of visual records or that at time the available pictures have been taken by the perpetrators. In these terms, animation can help problematize not just the reenacted historical incidents, but also the normative representational accounts of these events. See Victoria Grace Walden, “Animation and Memory,” in Animation Studies Reader, ed. Nichola Dobson, Annabelle Honess Roe, Amy Ratelle, and Caroline Ruddell (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), pp. 81-90.
[32] Annabelle Honess Roe, “Absence, Excess and Epistemological Expansion: Towards a Framework for the Study of Animated Documentary.” Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 6, no 3 (2011): p. 219.
[33] Anja Kofmel, “Director’s Note.” (2018): 6. Last Accessed January 26, 2021.
[34] See Nichols, p. 35.
[35] Rebecca Schneider, Performing Remains Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment (London, New York: Routledge, 2011), p. 286.
[36] See Steve Fore, “Reenacting Ryan: The Fantasmatic and the Animated Documentary.” Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 6, no 3 (2011): pp. 277-92.
[37] Honess Roe, p. 229.
[38] Chris Curling’s 1994 documentary for Channel 4 Dying for the Truth, suggested that Würtenberg was a committed journalist, whose motives for joining the PIV were journalistic rather than ideological. Kofmel’s approach is more measured given her cousin’s dalliance with the far right in the past. Curling’s documentary can be accessed here,
[39] Oppenheimer and Michael Uwemedimo have discussed how the reenactment of gestures on the part of the perpetrators can reveal their “citational logic.” This citational aspect of their gestures can demonstrate that the perpetrators were cogs in a collective apparatus of terror. As they say, “What Rebecca Schneider notes of the Abu Ghraib photographs also holds for the pose Abdul assumes for his souvenir photo: there is a ‘citational logic’ in the staged triumphalism of these gestures – these are poses struck precisely to be repeated, not only through the rehearsal of the torture scene in other such institutions (in the case of Abu Ghraib) or the threatened return of anti-communist massacres (at Snake River), but also through the circulation of the images at viewings that are yet to come. Facing the camera, and looking deliberately toward a future spectator, the ostentatious theatricality amplifies the effect of the performance as show-of-force.” Oppenheimer, Uwemedimo, p. 93.
[40] Nichols, p. 35.
[41] Schneider, Performing Remains, p. 10.
I find Schneider’s point intriguing because it implies that repeating the past can be the vehicle for changing the present and the future. This contradicts Ivone Margulies’ argument that “The pedagogic potential of reenactment depends precisely on such irreversibility. That one cannot change the past but can merely, and barely reproduce its semblance, is the implicit drama of reenactment, as well as its explicit working morale.” Margulies, p. 66.
[42] Errol Morris, “Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part Two).” The New York Times, 10 April, 2008. Available online, Last accessed January 13, 2022.
[43] Robert Sinnerbrink, Cinematic Ethics: Exploring Ethical Experience Through Film (New York: Routledge, 2016), p. 173.
[44] Patrick Gamble, “Radu Jude on I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians.” The Skinny: Independent Cultural Journalism. Last accessed October 28, 2019.
[45] Sylvie Jasen, Reenactment as Event in Contemporary Cinema. PhD thesis. Carleton University, 2011, p. 57.
[46] Nichols, p. 179.
[47] Traverso, p. 17.
[48] Schneider sets as an example the reenactment of the hands-up gesture on the part of the Black Lives Mater demonstrators. She explains how these reenacted gestures disturb the linearity of time to expose the ongoing afterlives of colonial oppression and slavery. The past here re-emerges in the present because of the ongoing racial inequalities and injustices. Schneider, “That the Past May Yet Have Another Future,” p. 294.
[49] Rothberg, p. 12.
[50] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History, trans. Adrian Collins (New York: Dover Publications, 2019), p. 22.
[51] Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books: New York, 1968), p. 255.
[52] Worthy of mention in this respect is Peter Berkowitz’s point that critical history endorses the historical dimension of the present and not just the past. “Critical history is properly deployed to dissolve the claims that the past makes on the present so as to free “the man of action.” Peter Berkowitz, “Nietzsche’s Ethics of History.” The Review of Politics 56, no. 1 (1994): p. 6.
[53] Vladan Petcovic, “Anja Kofmel: Director.” Available online: (2018). Last accessed January 26, 2021.
[54] Ana Grgić, “Radu Jude on I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians.” East European Film Bulletin 89 (2018). Last accessed January 26, 2021.

About the Author

Angelos Koutsourakis

About the Author

Angelos Koutsourakis

Angelos Koutsourakis is Associate Professor in Film and Cultural Studies at the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures, University of Leeds. He is the author of Rethinking Brechtian Film Theory and Cinema (2018), Politics as Form in Lars von Trier (2013) and the co-editor of The Cinema of Theo Angelopoulos (2015) and Cinema of Crisis: Film and Contemporary Europe (2020).View all posts by Angelos Koutsourakis →