Weapon of War
Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Ilse Van Velzen
Directed by Femke Van Velzen
DVD, color, 59 min.
College - General Adult
Women's Studies, African Studies, War
Reviewed by Gary Handman, University of California Berkeley
Date Entered: 10/12/2011
"Who will bring us peace on this African continent, friends, now that war is everywhere?" --Congolese soldiers' song
The past half-century has seen more than its share of war, genocide, and wholesale human suffering across the globe. Few places on earth, however, have witnessed more intense war-bred brutality and suffering than the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Weapon of War deals specifically with one particularly horrific aspect of those wars, the common use of sexual violence against women, both as an almost ritual or institutionalized military show of aggression and hostility, and as a manifestation of widespread war psychosis.
The film focuses on two combatants from different sides of the constantly shifting battle lines: an ex-rebel soldier trying to cope with his violent past deeds, and Captain Basima, a member of the Congolese army, turned priest and anti-sexual violence crusader. The ex-rebel's story is really the emotional core of the film. Wracked with guilt and nightmares, he seeks psychological counseling (and meds) to help him cope. He arranges a meeting with his former victim, who forces him to confront her heartbreaking fate ("Because of what you did...I've lost all my chances for a good life. Everybody holds me responsible [for what happened to me]...I'm not sure you understand you are now responsible for my life"). She does tentatively forgive him; they shake hands, and she receives a piglet from her assailant as part of his pathetic attempt at expiation. By the end of the meeting one comes to realize that both of these people are victims of war.
Captain Basima's story is no less engrossing. He admits to raping women, including the woman he would eventually marry ("many soldiers get married that way"), but has subsequently devoted his military and clerical careers to educating soldiers and ending sexual violence. In light of continuing violence, war, and poverty in the DRC, it's a mission that even he admits is most likely a futile one.
While these individual stories and encounters are enlightening and engaging, the Van Velzens' film bypasses a discussion of the profoundly tangled historical, political, and cultural roots of DRC's seemingly interminable civil wars. Without this kind of context, it's easy to lose track completely of who is fighting or allied with whom, and what the fighting is about in the first place. (At the time this film was made, there were purportedly over sixty different armed military, paramilitary, and rebel contingents shooting it out in the DRC). Ultimately, this lack of specific political and historical context may not matter. The film strongly conveys its broader intent—to reveal how the violence and inhumanity spawned by war impact individual lives and nations.