Between 1980 and 2000, Peru was beset by a horrible civil war that pitted Maoist guerrillas against government troops. Both sides engaged in appalling massacres and other war crimes. It is estimated that almost 70,000 Peruvians lost their lives. As is so often the case in warfare, most of the victims were not combatants, but civilians whose territory was fought over by both sides.
NN deals with a group of forensic investigators who exhume bodies from mass graves, reconstruct the skeletons and try to identify the victims and contact their families. The film is inspired by the work of the Peruvian Team of Forensic Anthropology, a real-life non-governmental organization.
The story opens with the team digging up a mass grave that is supposed to contain eight bodies, but actually contains nine. The ninth body is different from the others. Whereas the other victims were simply shot to death, this one was beaten and tortured first. In the pocket of a jacket found with the ninth body is a photo of a young woman.
Fidel, the doctor who heads the project, becomes obsessed with identifying this ninth victim. A woman shows up and correctly identifies the jacket as that of her missing husband, but the investigators point out that prisoners, when they realized that one of their comrades was about to be taken away to be tortured, would give him their heaviest clothes to soften the blows. So the connection between the jacket and the victim might not be direct.
As it happens, Peru was not the only country this year to enter a film about victims who disappeared during political conflict. Void, from Lebanon, deals with the same subject. Approximately 17,000 Lebanese are still missing from the fighting that occurred between 1975 and 1990. Void presents the stories of various women who, twenty years later, are still haunted by the disappearance of a loved one. There’s a mother who lost her son, a daughter who lost her father, a wife who lost her husband and a wealthy woman who lost her lover. I don’t often present SPOILER ALERTs, but here’s one. At the end of the film we learn that all of these women are mourning the same man, who was, after all, a son, a father, a husband and a lover. Multiply this by 17,000 and you get the point of Void.
Both NN and Void are reminders that when we read that a war has claimed the lives of so many thousands of victims and another so many thousands of people were wounded, the number of people who suffer is actually much greater.