In 2006, filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson went to the war-torn Congo on her own nickel to make a documentary about rape in the republic formerly known as Zaire. Her film, The Greatest Silence, which premieres tonight on HBO at 10pm, includes interviews with some of the estimated 250,000 women and girls who have been raped by soldiers over the past decade — as well as some of the rapists themselves — and the picture she paints is beyond grim. (Many women have been raped and injured to the point of lifelong incontinence, their vaginas rammed with sticks and other weapons until their uteri rupture). And though Jackson's personal history also plays a role in the film — she was raped by three men in 1976 — some reviewers find the inclusion of her own tragedy an intrustion. "She is motivated not simply by her reportorial instincts," notes NY Times reviewer Ginia Bellafante, "but also by her unfortunate wish to relate." More critical assessments of The Greatest Silence, after the jump.
New York Times:
There are certain kinds of art that obviously benefit from egocentricity. This kind of filmmaking almost never does. "The women of the Congo gave me a new definition of grace," Ms. Jackson says at the end of her film, as if that were the point.
The film shows the twisted layers of damage from war, twisted until the soldiers believe they must rape to win. Twisted until the viewer becomes engulfed in the twisted message of magic and enemy control and devastation. And you shout at the screen. Because the film shows you the pain of women raped in front of their husbands and children. Rammed with sticks until the uterus ruptures.
San Francisco Chronicle:
[Rape in the Congo] is a holocaust in slow motion...In the past decade, an estimated 250,000 women and girls, some as young as 4 or 5, have been raped by soldiers. In some cases, their genitals are mutilated and they become incontinent. The shame of rape is so pervasive that their husbands, and often their families, reject them. The children of rape are also shunned.
Los Angeles Times:
Harrowing and heart-rending and maddening and confounding...Jackson does a good job of capturing the paradoxical beauty of the setting, and she has structured her film so that even as it grows more horrible, hope glimmers.
New York Sun:
Disappointingly, the film also shies away from larger questions. Why, for example, is rape more prevalent in the Congo's conflict than it is in Darfur's, or was in Rwanda's? And why has rape become a standard practice in these wars at all? Such questions are neither insensitive nor beyond the point. "The Greatest Silence," which won a special jury prize at Sundance, is in some ways a well-made documentary. But by treating one country's tragedy as another chapter in Africa's endless suffering, it risks selling its important subject matter short.
Congo's Horror, as Seen Through a Personal Filter [New York Times]
The Brutal Truth [Washington Post]
Film Captures Rapists And Their Victims In Congo [SF Chronicle]
Breaking The Silence In The Congo [LA Times]
Silence Deafens The Congo [NY Sun]