When narratives are made and erased

The Names of the Flowers is on questions surrounding a witness to a historical event

Perhaps there was never a time when history was contested in daily political debates as is being done now. Multiple narratives of the same incident spread in mutually exclusive online bubbles and long-forgotten chapters from the past are revived as the lines between myth and history blur and falsification of history becomes common.

In The Names of the Flowers, debut directorial of Bahman Tavoosi, being screened in the International Competition category at the 25th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), the questions are surrounding a particular witness to a historical event. In the higher ranges of Bolivia, the region where Ernesto Che Guevara was gunned down amid a guerilla war, the government is planning to organise events to mark the 50th anniversary of that event.

A bowl of soup

Julia, an elderly teacher, has been for long a fascination for tourists to the remote village as the person who has met and talked to the revolutionary leader as he lay dying in the school building where she used to teach. She is said to have given him a bowl of soup and he is believed to have recited a poem on flowers to her in return. But, as the day of the celebration nears, a few other women also come forward making a claim to the same story. The invitation the government had extended to the teacher to share her story at the event is withdrawn and she is asked not to step into the school again.

As it often happens with such events, without a clear recorded history, it is one person’s word against another’s, making it hard for those who genuinely want to ascertain the truth. The village itself still seems to be in the shadow of that event from the past century, with it coming up in the government radar occasionally owing to that reason. The present political context of Bolivia also comes through as snatches of radio broadcast of a national leader speaking about the country’s fight against economic policies forced upon it by the International Monetary Fund and others, all of which would lead to an unsuccessful coup attempt in Bolivia two years after the events in the film.

Much of the film moves in an unhurried pace, sometimes as still images of soup bowls, vases, and the wrinkles on the old woman’s time-worn face. Some images do repeat, like that of her walking to the school, accompanied by her son clutching her photograph from younger days. We really are not told by her as to whether her story is true or whether she is making it up, although one can somewhat read from her face the feelings of still being caught in that historic moment that she lived half-a-century ago. But then, in this age, there could be another story, which would seem equally plausible.

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