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Watching the Unwatchable: Films Confront Torture

Sunday, December 6, 2009
3:00 p.m. The Underground Orchestra
Heddy Honigmann (The Netherlands, 1997)

(Het ondergronds orkest). Heddy Honigmann’s “political musical” takes us under the streets of Paris to discover the stories and songs of musicians on the Métro. These often well trained, once successful performers have escaped political strife elsewhere, only to find themselves entertaining grumpy commuters while dodging police sweeps and immigration patrols. An Argentine pianist recounts the tortures that nearly destroyed his hands; a Bosnian violinist recalls being drafted straight out of the Sarajevo symphony; a Zairean singer remembers his escape from a Mobutu death camp. Joined by Romanians, Vietnamese, Malians, Venezuelans, and others, their stories tell of war and escape, and of the marginal status that is their current fate. “Music and melancholy” is the film’s subheading; Honigmann captures the enthralling power of the former, showing how it both echoes and overcomes the latter, empowering yet embittering these musicians’ exiles in the figurative—and literal—undergrounds of Western Europe.

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Honigmann, Noshuld Lely. Photographed by Eric Guichard. (108 mins, In French and Spanish with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, From Medici Arts International, permission Icarus Films)