- Surviving Images: Cinema, War, and Cultural Memory in the Middle East by Kamran Rastegar
Kamran Rastegar's Surviving Images: Cinema, War, and Cultural Memory in the Middle East (2015) is an important contribution to the discussion of cinema and cultural memory connecting these realms to the broader fields of trauma studies, colonial and post-colonial studies, and Middle East studies. In the seven chapters of the book, Rastegar aims to investigate the production and circulation of collective memory through cinema in some Middle Eastern countries during or after the time of war and conflict in order to show the crucial role of cinematic representations in the formation of cultural discourses and socio-political meanings. In this regard, he asserts that "cinema even has served to play a significant and unique role in opposing dominant appropriations of, or conversely, cultural amnesia toward, the memory of conflicts" (2). Pointing to the contested notion of the 'Middle East' both geographically and discursively, the author resituates Middle Eastern cinema's discourse within the lines of social trauma and cultural memory to understand these notions in cinematic representations of countries such as Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Iran, Lebanon, and Israel within "three historical periods: the colonial age, the independence moment, and the postcolonial period" (2). In doing so, Rastegar meticulously and comparatively analyzes both canonical and less-studied films depicting "the changing dynamics of cultural memory of social conflicts" (3).
The significance of Surviving Images is in highlighting the competing historical and (post)colonial narratives in socio-cultural context of the Middle East and their impacts on the cinematic representations from various perspectives of colonizers, colonized, states, resistance groups, and the people. For instance in chapter two, by analyzing A. E. W. Mason's novel The Four Feathers (1902) and its cinematic adaptation within the context of colonial and imperial history, Rastegar argues that this literary work reflects the traumatic defeat of British army in Khartoum, Sudan, by the Mahdist forces in 1885 as a nexus through which the particularities of British cultural memory (perpetrator's trauma) are shaped. In this context, the British army is seen as the defender of Sudan which ultimately became the victim of "savage religious extremists […] rather than as a colonial army which had been defeated by the resistance of native defenders" (42). The author analyzes three cinematic adaptations of the novel directed by Merian C. Cooper (1929), Zoltán Korda (1939), and Shekhar Kapur (2002) [End Page 130] postulating that while these films are produced within different social contexts (American or British) and are transformed to some extent according to each filmmaker's vision, all three films center around the idealization of imperialist ideas within a masculine setting embodied through the figure of the main character of the novel/film(s), Harry Feversham. The cinematic representations of the colonial social trauma and its recovery occur through the transformation of Harry's character within the course of the narrative. "[…] the marks left upon the body of Harry Feversham, interpellates audiences, presumably primarily male, in a fantasy of gaining social honor through [military] service to colonial-imperial ends" (66).
Aligning with the masculine construction of colonial hegemony, embodied through Harry Feversham's persona discussed in chapter two, the following chapter navigates the gendering of independence moments in Egypt and Tunisia underlining the centrality of women's roles in anti-colonial struggles. Through examining two post-Second World War Egyptian films, I Am Free (Anna hurra, dir. Salah Abu Sayf, 1958) and The Open Door (Al-Bab al-maftuh, dir. Henri Barakat, 1963), Rastegar asserts that in Egypt, like any other recently independent country in the region in the 1950s and 60s, the formation of cultural memory through cinematic medium turned to be both ideological and gendered. Therefore, regardless of the portrayal of strong and courageous women in these independence films, the women's subjectivity is tamed within the patriarchal and heteronormative structure of the postcolonial nation and the demands of women's rights and equality are subordinated to national liberation and the anti-colonial cause...