Tag Archives: terrorism

El Lobo (2004)

“Even in hell you need friends.”

The Spanish film El Lobo is set during the last day’s of Franco’s dictatorship and is based on the tel loborue story of Mikel Lejarza’s infiltration of the ETA between 1973-1975. The story begins with married Basque construction worker, Txema (Eduardo Noriega). While he’s sympathetic to the ETA–the Basque Nationalist and Separatist movement, he’s opposed to the use of violence. Txema’s revolutionary ethics are soon put to the test.

One night, a band of ETA members arrive at his house and ask for shelter. Txema’s wife, who’s opposed to his ETA involvement is hustled out of the way, and Txema allows them to stay. The ETA members are there to kill a man identified as a collaborator. Txema is secretly horrified by the news and even tries a half-hearted attempt to warn the target. But he doesn’t go through with the warning, the target is killed and Txema is subsequently rounded up by police.  

Initially beaten and interrogated, the police sense that Txema isn’t a hard-boiled revolutionary and that he can be turned into an informer. Using a few threats, Txema becomes the police agent El Lobo with the task of infiltrating the ETA and bringing about the arrest of its leaders. He’s their “Trojan Horse.”

Txema soon becomes romantically involved by female ETA member Amaia (Melanie Douty) whose sexual habits smack of the mentality of a revolutionary groupie. The relationship blurs the already vague lines of demarcation for Txema. During this difficult period for the ETA, Txema is assigned to a commando and is often required to locate safe houses for ETA members. While Txema soon comes to believe that he is one of the good guys, the situation is complicated by the behind the scenes politics of who is going to get the credit for nailing the ETA, and while some members of the secret service see El Lobo as a disposable piece of rubbish–others do not. Txema doesn’t realise that he’s a tool for political ambitions.

El Lobo is excellent in its portrayals of the characters and the complexities of the situation, and a very nervous Txema finds himself caught up in internal squabbles within the ETA. With Franco fading, some of the ETA want to abandon the armed struggle and negotiate with the upcoming new government. Other revolutionaries stay firmly on track with the old ideals of a separatist Basque state. Locked in the ETA’s strict hierarchal system and caught between suspicious ETA members, the ethical divide over the political and armed struggle factions of the ETA, and ruthless secret service agents, by the time the story is over, El Lobo is a convoluted mess of trashed beliefs and ideals.

Apart from being a good story, the film raises questions regarding revolutionary ethics and the use of violence.  And if violence is used, is it inevitable that the most violent man becomes the leader? The film also illustrates the argument that the fascist state needs domestic terrorists to further its political agenda. Violence committed by terrorists creates the perfect atmosphere in which governments can implement and extend further a Strategy of Tension–thereby manipulating and controlling the population who passively accept stringent legislation and increased surveillance. From director Miguel Courtois.

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Omagh (2004)

 “We would like to call into account the security forces and the police and the politicians in London, Dublin, and Belfast who have promised us so much but have singularly failed to deliver.”

Omagh is a made-for-television film directed by Pete Travis that examines the story behind the Omagh bombing that took place on August 15, 1998. The bombing–carried out by the Real IRA (a splinter group of the provisional Irish Republican Army)–killed 29 people and left approximately 220 wounded. The bombing took place in the middle of the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

omagh1In October 1997, the Real IRA or True IRA formed after splintering from the Provisional IRA and its ceasefire agreement. On August 15, 1998, the organization placed a 500 lb bomb in a stolen car that was parked in a busy downtown market area of Omagh. Bomb warnings were then called in, but in spite of the telephoned warnings, civilians were actually redirected closer to the bomb.

The film Omagh charts the bombing and its after effects on the families of the victims and concentrates its story on the family of Michael Gallagher, whose only son Aiden was killed in the blast. Once the bombing was over, both the British government and the Provisional IRA were determined to continue with the peace process, but the families of the victims wanted those responsible for the bombing to be caught and punished.

At first the families are shown trying to seek arrests through the accepted channels. One Omagh resident patiently keeps writing letters to Tony Blair expecting to get some sort of personal response, but as time goes on, no one is caught and charged with the crime. Omagh residents become increasingly frustrated. A town meeting results initially in frustrated name-calling, but then Gallagher emerges as the chairman of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group.

But after all the official waves of sympathy passed away, the residents, survivors and families of victims were still left with nothing. Referring to British politicians, one resident concludes that “as long as the bombs stay out of London, they don’t give a damn.” In spite of the fact that the names of those involved in the bombing were known on both sides of the border, no one was charged with the crime. Mobile phone call records yielded names of prime suspects, but still no one was charged. And this is when the victims and their families get sick and tired of waiting for results and begin to do some legwork of their own. Amidst stories of multiple advances warnings from British agent Kevin Fulton, the entire Omagh episode becomes even murkier.

Omagh underscores the idea that the IRA and the splinter Real IRA are just as inaccessible, institutionalized, remote and largely disinterested as the British government. And as for the Real IRA members who carried out the bombing, this action proves the argument against using violence to further a political agenda. If the Real IRA were ‘counting’ on the British Government and the local police to warn the residents, we can see just where that illogical sort of reliance and trust led–right into the toilet. It’s a bit pathetic when you think about it. Here you are–the Real IRA devoted to kicking the British out of Ireland, and the best you can do is plant a huge bomb and then expect the police and the British government (institutions the Real IRA supposedly abhors) to do the honorable thing and warn the people. The British government wants one thing, the IRA wants another, but ultimately the people of Omagh were screwed. Was the Omagh massacre the result of police incompetence or was this a disaster that was allowed to happen in order to further a political agenda? Well watch this well-acted, riveting and eloquent film and decide for yourselves.

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Filed under Irish, Political/social films

Rachida (2002)

 “Hell is in my heart.”

Rachida an Algerian film directed by Yamina Bachir Chouikh explores the affects orachidaf terrorism on a young teacher. On the way to school, Rachida (Ibtissem Djouadi) is surrounded by a group of terrorists who demand that she plant a bomb at her school. When she refuses, she’s shot at point blank range. Although Rachida recovers, her psychological scars remain. Realizing that Rachida may be a potential target, her mother decides to move from Algiers into a remote village for safety, but it seems that violence is inescapable.

Rachida doesn’t glamorize terrorism–neither does it waste any time on humanizing the terrorists. Instead its focus is squarely on the innocents–those people who are working and struggling to make ends meet when suddenly their lives are ripped apart by violence. The village Rachida and her mother move to is subjected to frequent raids by a youthful thuggish gang of violent, well-armed terrorists. Rachida’s experiences are emblematic of the terrorist unrest in Algeria in the 90s (over 100,000 lives were claimed by terrorist violence). The villagers are easy pickings for the terrorists who swoop in and conduct armed raids, slaughtering and raping as they fancy.

Rachida is obviously not a high budget film, but nonetheless, this film is all that’s right in foreign cinema these days. Ibtissem Djouadi delivers a moving portrait of a young woman who struggles to maintain her human dignity in the face of inchoate, senseless violence. While the film touches on the fact that the terrorists are members of the Islamic Salvation Front, the film also focuses on the victimization of women in a patriarchal society that views women as property. One young girl, for example, is forced into marriage while the young man she cares for is constantly run off by her father–another young girl is raped by terrorists and ejected from her home as she’s somehow considered to blame for what happened to her. Scenes of great beauty (there’s a fantastic wedding party sequence) are juxtaposed with scenes of senseless cruelty, but the film is subtle, and doesn’t plant any unrealistic political speeches in the mouths of its characters. For those who watch the DVD, “The Director’s Statement”, and the section “Film in Context” should not be missed. This is a marvelous film, and by its conclusion, Rachida’s question remains: “Where was all this hate buried?” In French and Arabic with English subtitles.

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Filed under Algerian