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Bitter Moon

Music Composition: Pamela Z.
Produced by Elahe Massumi

Bitter Moon In each of the three parts of "Bitter Moon," the video by Elahe Massumi, old Roma (or Gypsy) survivors of the Holocaust recount being taken by the Nazis, sent to concentration camps, and subjected to harrowing ordeals, if not immediate extermination.

In Part I, a gnarled old woman dressed in rags sits and talks on her doorstep, at night, in a low raking light that throws a long shadow, suggesting an outdoor fire, and the stoking of long-ago memories. The old woman recounts the horrors of her Nazi concentration camp experience in explicit detail, while the lulling wail of a song joins her voice, linking the singularity of her testimony to a sense of larger calamity. (The Nazis killed an estimated 1.5 million Gypsies.)

Part 2 opens at night as well, with a frontal shot of the facade of a house, seemingly in the same rural Romanian village. We hear the voiceover of an old man's narration of his concentration camp experience; the dirt-floor destitution invoked by the hovel's facade reads as symbolic of some horribly unrequited debt owed for all the infamies being recounted. If it's not already been suggested by their living conditions, one of the speakers explicitly protests that they have yet to be compensated for the crimes inflicted on them, after now some 60 years.

Part 3 consists of a second old woman's first-person testimonial to genocide. Together, these three survivors recall mass confiscations of property (leaving them with no money or goods to buy anything); days without food; wearing paper clothing in bitter cold; lice and typhus, and death on a routine basis, and a massive scale. "How we suffered," a toothless old woman concludes, as the singsong lamentation of a single voice accompanies her in the background. (The ghostly music is credited to Pamela Z.)

As some of them speak, the camera sometimes lingers in close-up on the exterior and interior surfaces of the Romanian rural hovels in which these people came back to, underlining how bitterly destitute these victims of the Holocaust remain. Shot on location in Romania, and relying on the testimony of survivors, "Bitter Moon" yokes together elements of the documentary and the feature film with the objective of dragging at least a corner of the largely overshadowed history of the Roma in the 20th c. into the light. With its cinema verite authenticity, its fusion of documentary and cinematic techniques, and its moral imperative, "Bitter Moon" is of a piece with Massumi's other recent video works, which have variously addressed child prostitution in India and genital circumcision in Africa. Together they define an ambitious project to create a very personal map to-and exploration of-the global landscape of human rights and injustice.

Robert Knafo is a critic and curator. He lives in New York

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