Documenting the season of Lebanon’s discontent

April 16th, 2007 | Posted in Culture, Other

    Carol Mansour’s ‘A Summer not to Forget’ lets the frightful
    images of last year’s war with Israel speak for themselves


    Review by Kaelen Wilson-Goldie. Daily Star Tuesday, April 17, 2007

BEIRUT: The opening scene is shot from a camera shouldered on a running body. An image of a dirt road jolts in the frame with each step. From somewhere off screen comes the sound of someone shouting gruffly for an ambulance. A smashed car drifts into view. The driver’s side door is open. Slumped in the front seat is a man, his chest and gut covered in blood, clearly dead. Then comes the deafening sound of an explosion. The camera jerks around to the left, searching. The place and time are set – South Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

The first corpse that sets Carol Mansour’s 27-minute documentary “A Summer not to Forget” in motion is by no means the last. An onslaught of gruesome images and rapid-fire statistics, the film is not for the faint of heart. Not only does Mansour catalogue the destruction of roads, bridges, ports and factories during 34 days of Israeli bombardment, she also presents one horrific sequence after another – young men laid up in hospital suffering the strange burns of alleged phosphorus bombs, the child victims of cluster munitions who were wounded after the cessation of hostilities came into effect, and bodies of men, women and children – all mangled, disfigured, ripped open, lifeless.

Tough-minded documentaries are Mansour’s forte. In 2003, she made “100 Percent Asphalt,” about abandoned street kids in Cairo who are left to fend for themselves against violent crime and drug addiction. In 2005, she made “Invisible Children,” about the tragedies and triumphs of the youngsters who constitute the child labor workforce in Lebanon, and “Maid in Lebanon,” about migrant workers from Sri Lanka who are recruited into domestic servitude in Lebanon and then treated, more often than not, like dirt or worse.

“A Summer not to Forget” is her plea against inevitable tides of amnesia. This time, do not forget. This time, do not let these images fade. Mansour’s film doesn’t seek to explain the war or set it in context. Her first-person narration runs throughout but sticks by and large to facts and figures – 1,200 killed, 4,000 wounded, 107 roads bombed, 78 bridges destroyed, 57 massacres committed. When her text becomes intimate, it does so simply- “The destruction of our homes, our roads, our livelihoods, our lives.”

“On July 12, 2006, Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers,” she says at the film’s start. “For the following 34 days, Lebanon witnessed continuous Israeli bombardment.”

If there is any argument behind her film, then it deals only with the need to document how dramatically disproportionate Israeli’s reaction was.

Instead of creating a cinematic polemic, Mansour gives over the role of expressing outrage to her subjects, to those people who lost homes and lives and turned to her camera to ask over and over again, with mounting desperation, “Why? For what?”

One man she revisits several times in the South, his face leathered by the sun, tells her there’s no Hizbullah presence anywhere near his home, which was bombed. “Find one fighter here, one office,” he challenges. Israel, he says, grabbing a stone from the ground, “has turned even this rock into Hizbullah.” Slowly, his story enfolds. It’s the third time his house has been bombed by Israel. He’s lived abroad for 30 years. He built the house for his children. He is 53 and doesn’t want to be reduced to living in the squalor of a single room and doesn’t understand why he has to, what the war has to do with him. As his disbelief escalates, and his face shows signs of cracking into tears, he chokes on his words. “Tfadali, huh!” he says, pulling out a bundled plastic bag. He unties it and reaches inside. Now utterly speechless, he pulls out a blue rectangle and opens it for Mansour’s camera – his American passport. He has no words left to reconcile this rupture of incomprehension.

In her book “Regarding the Pain of Others,” the late novelist and essayist Susan Sontag wrote: “Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens, and cannot encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function. The images say: This is what human beings are capable of doing – may volunteer to do, enthusiastically, self-righteously. Don’t forget.”

The danger of atrocious images, Sontag argued, is that people tend to remember them instead of the events they represent. Moreover, remembering horrific events is less productive than thinking them through. Only narratives can make people understand, she wrote.

Mansour keeps her narrative to a minimum in “A Summer not to Forget,” but the story she tells – simple and straightforward – is sufficient to jam a wedge in the door of forgetfulness.


I am the film maker. I am very glad that you are showing my documentary. How did you get a copy? Do you need any help?

Comment by carol mansour — October 2nd, 2007 @ 12:30 PM

The manner in which Ms. Mansour begins her “story” provides the proof of her political slant and bias.

Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that has been complicit in the bombings in Argentina, the destruction of the US and French marine barracks in Beirut, the kidnappings and killings of westerners in Lebanon, the murder of Israelis on their side of the Israel-Lebanon border and the kidnapping (and refusal to allow the International Red Cross to ascertain the fate) of two Israelis from Israel, knew precisely what it was doing. Add the thousands of rockets that it proceeded to fire indisciminately into Israel, and we get a better understanding of what Hezbollah is. It did not simply “capture two Israeli soldiers.!!!

You are so right when you say that “Mansour’s film doesn’t seek to explain the war or set it in context”. After all, that would require her to either: (i) acknowledge the truth of the situation, that an element of the Lebanese government decided, in order to draw attention away from its puppet-masters in Iran, to attack across an international border (this is an act of war, by the way); or (ii) pull a “George Galloway” and come up with an absurd justification for Hezbollah’s actions.

Far easier to simply “document” the Israeli “atrocities”!

Comment by Steven — October 8th, 2007 @ 11:46 PM

Steven; anyone with a little sense of what went on in Lebanon in 2006 would know that the Lebanese government mentioned in your response as the puppet of Iran is in fact the puppet the US a la Israel. Browse for further information on the subject.

Comment by da — October 15th, 2007 @ 7:43 PM

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