With the exception of regular and unsparing depictions of sexual violence, the film's action is sparse and dialogue is minimal. This seems appropriate to the film's subject matter; after all, as Judith Lewis Herman argues in her book Trauma and Recovery, traumatic memories are concerned with corporeal and visual sensation rather than verbal narrative. Perhaps this is why the camera lingers so long, so often on Samira's enormous, fear-filled eyes. Landscape is important, too: the barren flatlands on which Samira's hut has been built contrast starkly with the verdant beauty of the hillsides surrounding the compound, linking Samira with her environment and creating a distinctly gendered topography.
Particularly problematic is the film's depiction of something like a rape camp. Some of the claims made about Serb-run rape camps have been challenged by historians such as Diana Johnstone and David Gibbs. As I discussed in greater detail here, the evidence that Serb forces used rape systematically (that is, on orders 'from above') during the war has been hotly disputed. As Johnstone writes, ‘the accusation that the Serbs initiated a deliberate policy of mass rape has never been substantiated. But the belief that this happened is widespread and persistent'. Moreover, while stories about the rape of Muslim women were used to construct a 'feminist' argument in favour of military intervention in Bosnia, Serb rape victims have tended to be ignored in the dominant Western narrative of the war, even though - as Peter Brock shows in his book Media Cleansing, Dirty Reporting: Journalism and Tragedy in Yugoslavia - the documentation of Serb rape victims was more extensive than that relating to Muslim victims. No matter: according to the dominant narrative of the Western journalists, the only rapists were Serbs, the only victims Muslims. Yet one seriously has to wonder whether those who take such a one-sided view of conflicts really care about the victims on either side. As the comedian Mark Steel suggests in his book What's Going On?, 'anyone who is deeply moved by one set of tragedies while ignoring, and even justifying, those on the other side, in reality is not genuinely touched by either'.
Rape, as we know, is used by men as a weapon of terror and, indeed, as a weapon of war. But as the history of imperialist propaganda shows - from the allied propaganda around the so-called 'Rape of Belgium' in World War I to the 'rape rooms' of Saddam Hussein's Iraq - claims of systematic rape are all too readily wielded in the service of political propaganda. It is impossible not to feel disgusted by the events depicted in As If I Am Not There; but our disgust ought not to blind us to the film's reinforcement of dubious historical assumptions and stereotypical patterns of representation.