Perpetrator Photographs Seen Through Cinematographic Lenses. Editing as Historic Interpretation in Portraits of Identification (A. Leandro, 2014)
The archives of the political police of Rio de Janeiro (APERJ) contain a series of photographs from the 1964-1985 dictatorship devotes to its ‘enemies’, most of them urban-guerrilla members. Those images were produced and collected for repression purposes: special tracking agents’ photos, mug shots taken upon detention and eventually after the interrogation sessions, picture-inventories of weapons and material seized in “operations”… All these photographs can be termed as perpetrator images, that is to say, images generated by the machinery of repression, embodying their authors’ gaze and aimed at producing new results. Accordingly, they can be considered at once representations and performative acts. A turning point in breaking the secrecy of the interrogation scenes was represented by the death under torture of prisoner Chael Schreier in 1969. Astonishingly, the autopsy report escaped the strict executioners’ control and triggered the first national and international indictment against the military regime for the use of torture.
A meticulous research conducted by Anita Leandro on various archives led to her film Portraits of Identification (2014). Using editing and montage techniques in its analytical dispositive, this documentary resorts to the perpetrator photographs (reports based on visual material, mug shots, among others) in order to shed light on a murder that changed the public image of the Dictatorship. To make these visual documents speak, the filmmaker explores the photographs meticulously, displays them in a temporal sequence, and brings them together with other sources, such as written files, oral testimonies and stock footage so as to fill in the gaps and provide a historical narrative for the events. In so doing, the rhetorical resources of cinema become instruments of analysis that go beyond the film-essay strategies and the artistic remediation of archival material used by authors such as Chris Marker or Harun Farocki. As a consequence of this approach, documentary making is transformed into a new and effective tool for historical interpretation.