Friday, July 22, 2016

IO STO CON LA SPOSA: A Video-Graphic Review

Tommaso Manfredini

(Tommaso is a Doctoral Student in the Department of French and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University and can be reached at

EU Regulation 604/2013 remains the latest attempt at legally harmonizing the processing of asylum-seeking and protection claims across all EU Member States. Its origin can be traced back to the 1990 Dublin Convention (ratified in 1997), followed by the Regulation’s original 2003 draft which, through several amendments, led to the adopted text of 2013. Commonly known as “Dublin Regulation” or Dublin III”, the regulation establishes that the Member State where applicants first lodge a status application is responsible for reviewing that claim. This means that an asylum-seeker has only one chance and, formally, one choice: he or she must lodge their application in the country where they would like to be admitted and eventually reside. Lodging an application”, however, is not exactly an act of free will. In theory, an application for asylum will be filed on behalf of an undocumented migrant whenever and wherever this person comes into contact with a European state representative. If a person enters the EU through Italy but wants to live elsewhere, as is the case of the characters in Io sto con la sposa, he or she must make their way to the country of their choosing without being intercepted by state representatives”—police, train controllers, highway patrols, etc.Io Sto con la Sposa is thus a statement about and against the growing inadequacy of the Dublin Regulation and its power of fragmenting the purportedly borderless space of the European Union.

The story behind the movie starts when Gabriele del Grande and Khaled Al Nassiry, two of the film directors, meet five people in Milan: Abdallah, a Palestinian university student; Abu-Manar and Manar, dad and son from Syria, and Mona and Ahmed, an elderly couple also from Syria. They are all asylum seekers, and share the desire to leave Italy and reach Sweden. To do so, they stage a wedding motorcade. Three vehicles, decorated with bows and bells, will accompany the five asylum seekers to Sweden. Abdallah the university student, and Tasneem, a Palestinian woman living legally in Milan, play the newlywed couple. The other 4 asylum seekers, the Italian directors and a small crew are disguised as wedding guests.
In a time of repeated isolationist fire on the Schengen agreement and tightened borders within and around the EU, different members of the wedding motorcade submit to different legal regimes. If apprehended, undocumented passengers will be taken into custody and those who sought asylum in Italy will be sent back. On the other hand, EU citizens driving the motorcade could be charged with facilitating the illegal crossing of a border” and be sentenced to up to 15 years in jail.

Under these auspices, in November 2013, the wedding party sets out to Sweden, hoping to show an unknown side of Europe – a transnational, supportive and irreverent Europe that ridicules [its own] laws in a masquerade directly filmed on the road from Milan to Stockholm”[i]. The film, although proclaiming itself a documentary, blurs the classical boundaries of the genre in order to develop a poetics of incommensurable solitude and deep commonality, both rooted in the condition of undocumented migration.

 The film is about ‘real people’ and addresses the viewer as citizen. Formally, too, the film conforms to the rules of the documentary: it relies for the most part on natural light and ambient sound, and favors almost entirely actual location. The film is engaged in showing reality” in the making, as it unfolds, without certainty of the outcome. But reality”, as well as the characters/wedding guests/migrants, are all dressed up, disguised and driven. Fictional and farcical elements are embedded in the very idea of the project—love conquers all (or will convince all state agents)—and resurface periodically in the movie. The film also goes further, aestheticizing an act of civil disobedience against the Dublin Regulation and, at the same time, the political choice of supporting mobility.

 The first leg of the journey is from Milan to Marseille. The wedding party decides to cross the French border by foot, in what is portrayed as a merely strategic choice in order to avoid possible passport controls but has, in fact, deep historical echoes and poetic force.


 During this sequence, captured in the still above, the spectator is confronted with an unexpected relic from the past: the tangible border, a rusty barbed wire fence riddled with human-sized holes. As Mezzadra and Neilson have pointed out, the border has ceased to be the cartographic line, literally marginal” to political and artistic thought, that divided up the modern world. As a result of the re-organization of the nation-state, they argue, the modern-world border, the line on the map, has stretched to encompass vast geographical areas, such as the deserts between Mexico and the US or the choppy waters of the Mediterranean Sea”[ii]. Alongside its geographically extended reach, the border has attached itself to the individual, to her body and to her administrative status. Depending on the individual’s status and trajectory, then, the border could or could not be enforced.
Indeed, the still shown above perfectly encapsulates these two regimes - or scales - of the border.  Whether in Milan, in the middle of Germany, or in a Swedish custom office, Tasneem and Abdallah (the newlyweds) carry with them not only national but also European borders, highlighting the functioning of the contemporary border as a pervasively mobile control apparatus. At the same time, they are about to cross the contemporary border’s exact opposite, the unmovable, immobile fence, one that armies of thousands, throughout the 20th century and beyond it (see, for instance, the 2015 Ventimiglia border riots), have fought to displace a meter forth or a meter back, a kilometer ahead or a kilometer behind.

An abandoned building, some signs of human presence on the ground, and a wall on which migrants, refugees, and undocumented crossers leave traces of their passage. Simultaneously showing and concealing multiple layers of names, verses, dates, insults, and dedications, the wall on which Abdallah writes is a palimpsest of past personal and collective tragedies. The inscriptions are intended to survive an absence of subject and audience; they will remain after Abdallah leaves, while the writing hand has survived the physical and psychological horror it now bears witness to. Thus, Abdallah’s gesture is not solely backward-looking. It also ensures a present – no longer in motion and life but at least in writing – to the names of his people who died at sea. In creating this makeshift graphic memorial, he is animated by the strength required to turn personal memories of tragedy into a shared past, and a shared present.

However, the faith one could see in Abdallah’s necessity to write, to inscribe and to remember is tainted by the realization that this dilapidated wall in the middle of a deserted border zone is reminiscent of these stories’ marginality in Europe’s collective memory, and indeed, in Europe’s present. The walls on which similar writings can be found – such as those of identification and detention centers, or of temporary shacks in makeshift refugee camps – all bear a similar characteristic: they remain in the periphery of the public eye. On these walls a yet-unresolved tension is played: the migrant’s necessity to leave the trace of a trajectory that, in order to be successful, requires tracelessness and near-invisibility.

I want to conclude this review with one last clip. It is a sequence filmed on the train taking the protagonists from Copenhagen (Denmark) to Malmoë (Sweden). It is the last border that they have to cross before reaching their intended destination. 

The visual portrait of this last border is strikingly different from the depiction of the one separating France and Italy. We do not notice the oppressing realism, the shrieking chalk on the wall and the insisted close-ups of disturbed faces of the previous clip. Here, close-ups are shorter, less intruding, and they are separated by ethereal, almost nostalgic shots of livid Northern clouds. In addition to this, ambient sound is no longer dominant: although still present, it becomes almost inaudible behind a studio-recorded instrumental suite.

 In between the formal differences of these two scenes we find the aesthetic and political peculiarities of this film. By progressively adding visual and aural poetry to the uncompromising documentation of crude reality, Io sto con la sposa blurs the classical boundaries of the genre in order to develop a poetics stretched between solitude and solidarity, between personal suffering and political (temporary) victory. As such, the film raises important challenges for our political practices. It embodies a strand of social protest that eschews traditional avenues of documenting and practicing dissent in favor of creative, cunning and audacious political practices.

Io sto con la sposa (On the Brides Side). Directed by Antonio Augugliaro, Gabriele Del Grande, and Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry. Gina Films / Doc Labs and 2.617 crowdfunders. 2014

[i]               Augugliaro, Del Grande and Al Nassiry in On the Bride’s Side Pressbook, 9
[ii]              Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, Border as Method, Durham: Duke UP, 2013, viii.

No comments: