Viktor Portel • Director of The Investigator
“It was time to ask ourselves what The Hague Tribunal was good for, not for the past, but for the future”
- The Czech director follows a former investigator from The Hague Tribunal in an attempt to understand how the trauma of war lingers on into the present day
Czech director Viktor Portel's directorial debut, The Investigator [+see also:
interview: Viktor Portel
film profile], is screening in FIPADOC's European Stories section. It follows a former investigator from The Hague Tribunal, Vladimír Dzuro, as he returns to the Balkans, to places where war crimes were committed nearly 30 years ago. The film weaves together Dzuro’s recollection of his two most important cases and the personal testimonies of survivors, in order to understand how the trauma of war lingers on into the present day and the role international justice played in this process.
Cineuropa: Why did you decide to make this film, 30 years after the war in the former Yugoslavia started?
Viktor Portel: I was curious about the intervention of the international community and its belief that it could bring order to the chaos by setting up The Hague Tribunal. I was interested in whether this intervention of justice from outside had, in their minds, helped or harmed the people in these states. I must say, however, that in the early days of the film, I had no idea what level of refusal and disappointment I would encounter.
When we started working on the feature five years ago, The Hague Tribunal was coming to a close – and I thought it was the right time to start asking ourselves what it was good for. Not for the past, but for the future.
Dzuro is not only the protagonist; he is also very active and leads the audience through the film.
I quickly realised that despite the gratitude they felt towards him, the people in these countries simply wouldn't tell him about their difficulties, doubts and disappointments with international justice... So I decided to base the feature very much on Vladimír, but also to give him a similar role to that of an investigator in the structure of the film. I wanted to let him listen only to the memories and stories of those involved, but not to influence them. That's why he never physically meets them in the film, just like when, in the 1990s, he could not affect the injustices he learned about in his investigations. But at the same time, in a new way, we wanted to give him the opportunity to share his feelings, to react to what the other protagonists were saying and let him give us his point of view, which no one ever asked him about as an investigator. And Vladimír was great because he was very open to this concept.
In a certain way, Dzuro comes across as a tragic figure: two of his big cases committed suicide. And we know that no one is really happy with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia: the victims do not feel that justice has been served, and on the other hand, all nations claim they are particularly targeted by the Tribunal.
It's very important to me that you read it that way. But let's ask ourselves why we find it tragic: after all, we're talking about a man who did something unprecedented – his team caught the first criminal since World War II without the support of major international players, and Dzuro had a star career at the UN because of it. And yet we find the story tragic because losing several years of your life trying to prosecute two criminals, neither of whom ends up behind bars, is in some ways tragic.
This is because we still think of justice in terms of a simple scheme of crime - accusation - punishment - reconciliation. And if that whole chain comes to fruition, we feel satisfied that it "turned out well". But for me, Vladimír's story shows that it is a much more complicated process that is never perfect, and is always full of pain, ingratitude and hurt. And this is as true on a personal level as it is on a national one.
It must have been difficult to get interviewees for the film with the atmosphere that still prevails in each of the countries. Is this also the reason for the structural imbalance, in which the first case takes up more than half of the film, and Arkan, one of the biggest monsters, gets much less space?
You've got it, exactly. The fact that we managed to convince former chief Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukčević to do the interview was a small miracle – at first, he cancelled the shoot twice. The former Bosnian war crimes prosecutor disappeared years ago, and we have not been able to track him down at all.
Mapping Arkan's story was difficult for us - it was by far the hardest part. Around Arkan's wife, Serbia's most famous singer, Ceca, there is this huge, impenetrable wall. Despite all of the complications, we knew that we had to tell Arkan's story in the film, and that without him, the picture of Dzuro's work would not be complete.
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