Sven Augustijnen’s prize-winning film essay follows a Belgian colonial official’s very personal investigation into the murder of the prime minister of the Congo. Followed by Sven Augustijnen in conversation with TJ Demos.
Fifty years after his assassination, Patrice Lumumba, first Prime Minister of the newly independent Congo, is back to haunt Belgium. Sven Augustijnen’s prize-winning film essay Spectres focuses on one of the darkest chapters in the colonial history of the Belgian Congo, set to the music of Bach’s St. John’s Passion, to explore questions of legitimation, historiography, trauma, responsibility and debt.
How does a country or an individual deal with the colonial past? How does a nation process the suffering it has inflicted, dubious political acts or moral bankruptcy? Who is guilty, admits to guilt and what are they guilty of? In Spectres, Augustijnen follows Jacques Brassinne de La Buissière, a French-speaking Belgian who is now 82 years old and who was a high-ranking official when Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in 1961. Brassinne conducted an obsessive personal investigation into the truth of this murder for thirty years. In its focus on one man’s convictions, Spectres examines a line between forensic justice and history as a legitimizing force. With his delicate psychological portrait Augustjnen shows how the friction between personal involvement and an objective writing of history, between fact and fiction, truth and conviction, wholly obscures questions of guilt. While embedded in the unresolved colonial actions of the Belgian state, the questions raised by Augustijnen go beyond the particularity of this singular episode to offer a compelling meditation on suffering, complicity, and power.
Sven Augustijnen, Belgium, 2011, 104 mins, Subtitled
Followed by Sven Augustijnen in conversation with TJ Demos