Contributed Content Visual and New Media Review
Somewhere amid the high-Andes mist, floating above the plane of signification, where all but one toponym is offered (the mythic El Putumayo), dust particles beam effervescently in a ray of light. It is difficult to discern their trajectory—whether ascending, descending, or moving sideways—all we know is they are suspended in luminosity until they are swallowed by darkness. This beam of light dissects the dark, forming something of a petri dish containing recognizable fragments in space. Like cinema projectors, the function of the cone of light coming through Alexander Fattal’s camera obscura on wheels is not only to project images but to proffer slices of life.
As with his scholarship (see Fattal 2018), Alexander L. Fattal’s latest short film Limbo addresses how demobilization and transitional justice in Colombia is geared toward disseminating carefully framed images, albeit it would have us believe that its sole purpose is to dissect the fragments suspended in the metaphoric light of juridical justice. Whereas transitional justice acts as the prism that rectifies and sharpens images from an allegorical outside pertaining to the armed conflict, Fattal eschews the prismatic clarity allowing instead for a single yet fragmented story to be elucidated through hazy and upside-down projections emanating from his makeshift camera obscura. Such haziness extends to the notion of ethnographic authority as the ethnographer turned filmmaker intersects with Alex, the film’s narrator, the profilmic alter ego, and former left-wing guerrilla member transitioning to civilian life. Alongside the chronicle of his toils (featuring, among others, an oneiric duel with the devil), an ayahuasca-infused dreamscape populated by the phantasmagoria of Colombia’s unrelenting Cold War actors and narratives chase after him and come to the fore in the play of soft silhouettes and deep shadows.
Given that Colombian publics generally fail to empathize with the life stories of ex-insurgents springing out of a seemingly endless armed conflict, the payload of the truck contains the narration as if it were a black box bracketed away from the public sphere. For what is transitioning to civilian life from the ranks of the insurgency but a prolonged state of liminality defined by unfulfilled promises of transcendence that fail to secure the slightest of dignified civil stabilities? Fattal’s Limbo is a performative act that both humanizes its narrator and questions its own possibilities as a portrait to become embedded within the framework of national representations. This film, with its ingenious aesthetics and subtle underlying statements, is demonstrative of the out-of-focus contours of justice and peace. Against the Colombian ideologues of the post-conflict, it sets the backdrop for a counter discourse where the meshing of dreams and life stories have more weight than the conflation of consumer advertising and governance currently driving claims of societal reconciliation in Colombia.
We welcome you back to the SCA's Screening Room. Limbo (2019) will be publicly available to our viewers for the next two weeks.
Fattal, Alexander L. 2018. Guerrilla Marketing: Counterinsurgency and Capitalism in Colombia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Posts in This Series
Thank you for visiting the Screening Room. This film is no longer available. For more information on Limbo (2019), visit here.... More
Ethnographica Obscura: An Interview with Alexander L. Fattal
Limbo (2019) brings a unique audiovisual perspective to ethnographic filmmaking as it recounts one person’s lived experience. Alex, anthropologist and filmmaker... More
The Second Penance
I confess that I watched Limbo (2019) while reading the new English-language translation of Michel Foucault’s (2021) Confessions of the Flesh, the fourth volume... More