A Haunted Past review

by Jeoffrey Mukubi and Nkululeko Zilibokwe

This heartfelt documentary tells the story of Tawfiq, a scorned man, helpless father and ex-jihadist who has been sent back to his country of origin after spending six years in prison on terrorism charges. Director Fatma Riahi did a phenomenal job of capturing the pain, anger, and disappointment of Tawfiq and his daughters.

He is unhappy and blames the situation he finds himself in on his estranged and missing wife who has gone missing. His daughters cry out for help as they miss their normal life back in Bosnia, but Tawfiq is not allowed to return and he is afraid that if his daughters find their mother, they will leave him too.

Pictures that are too difficult to look at await storage in the new house they are building. And although Fatma's arrival comes as the walls and roof are being completed, what she unearths is their shaky foundation.

Each mundane chore and intimate moment is laden with anger and deferred dreams. Tawfiq's resolve to protect his daughters from future harm extends to forgiving their mother. A Haunted Past is a lesson on the intricacies of trauma and pain - revenge may be an option but in reality is always far more difficult than it seems.

review by: Jeoffrey Mukubi

Every day, our leaders, politicians, and pundits call for peace - with our rivals, other political parties and those who have done us wrong. But few of them would understand the cold, destructive, and ultimately hollow injustice experienced by Tawfiq on A Haunted Past. The filmmaker Fatma Riahi shoots in 8 millimetre, and she clearly glories in the format. And this visual approach is apt for a film which explores the hold that the past has on us. A Haunted Past steps into the life of Tunisian Tawfiq who fought in the Bosnian war against Serbian forces. After six years of imprisonment on false charges, he travels to Bosnia with his three daughters, his wife having left him. In Bosnia, he finds himself in a daily internal conflict between his responsibility for the care of his daughters and his desire for revenge on those who destroyed his life.

The film takes the lid off the injustice and frustration inherited by generations. Riahi, in collaboration with script advisor Nizar Hassan, extensively explores Tawfiq’s side of the story - he feels that he has been subjected to injustice in his homeland, and vacillates between his obsession for revenge and his desire for justice.

The film casts some light on the motivations behind the political and personal choices made by parents, whose shortcomings do not affect them alone, but also affect their children. The film criticises governments who punish parents by aborting their dreams, and juggling with the fates of their families. A Haunted Past is chilling and will keep viewers glued to their screens. Yet, it is also surprisingly warm and inspirational at times and advocates for humanity and justice. Although the film deals with an individual situation, its story of a family torn apart by the spectre of terrorism is a sadly familiar one. Their stories deserve to be told and their truths interrogated through films such as A Haunted Past in which humanist concerns overlap with the religious and the political.

A Haunted Past is a lesson on the complexities of trauma, where revenge may be sweet, but reality is bitter. If you liked Breaking the Silence by Steve Connelly or My Daughter the Terrorist by Beate Arnestad, then A Haunted Past will appeal to you.

review by: Nkululeko Zilibokwe