“Of all the specific liberties which might come into our minds when we hear the word ‘freedom’, freedom of movement is historically the oldest and also the most elementary. Being able to depart for where we will is the prototypal gesture of being free, as limitation of freedom of movement has from time immemorial been the precondition for enslavement.” –Hannah Arendt
It is but the privilege of traveling. In Species of Spaces, Georges Perec speaks of the motion of travel not merely a relocating, but also as reimagining: “The surprise and disappointment of traveling. The illusion of having overcome distance, of having erased time. To be far away. Or else, rather, to discover what you’ve never seen, what you didn’t expect, what you didn’t imagine.” But in order to be far, it is necessary to locate a point of departure around which we can gravitate. A point of departure is a physical marker, but also one of personal identity; the specific site of a narrated life. In "surveying"cartographically a "human" site, in order to map it out, there is a negotiation between boundaries, referents and exits, which aims at a vast expanse rather than an enclosed chamber.
Filmmakers and artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige ask the question in their performance-lecture “Aida Save Me” (2010), measuring the distance between recognition and representation, of how to locate (memory) images whose referents have been irretrievably lost or have gone missing. But while the reconstructive approach is a viable strategy in a situation of memory-loss, how is it possible to navigate the condition (by no means contingent or circumstantial) of "site-loss" or "boundary-loss"? In his short film, Mondial 2010 (2014), Lebanese artist Roy Dib, deploys a visual analytical essay, discussing the institutional borders of the present day Middle East as a geopolitical site atomized by internal borders, and using the ubiquity of video as a means to construct a geographical continuity in the manner of a seamless dialogue.
In an otherwise simple travelogue, along a non-existing route, two fictional characters travel from Beirut to Ramallah (and the routes leading to this mythical journey likely exist, but are politically and legally prohibitive) with the sole intention of visiting friends. While the journey is linear and literary, several interruptions in the natural flow of reality, never experienced as logical gaps but as fractures in the tissue of appearance, are made manifest in language. The "dream-world" of Palestine appears before them not as a public space but as a disjointed sequences of private spaces crowded on top of each other. Under the apparent normality, the irony of invisibility opens a politics of desire, in which the characters never reach their real destination – beyond the scope of the film – and remain suspended in an event horizon of life, love and reality.
The homosexual couple at the center of the dialogue remains an obscure symbol for an imaginary that is emerging with the brutal force of powerlessness and de-territorialization; geographical, political, emotional. While they never appear in the frame, their voice throughout the film functions not only as a medium but also as a physical force and an object, both of which make reality comprehensible insofar as they bear witness to its singularity.1 Merging their gaze with the objective camera, and therefore with the collective of the cinematic audience, Dib de-militarizes the present tense by handing over the gaze or the presence, to atomized individuals lacking a public space of their own, and subject to criminalization, violence and illegality by their existence alone.2 The existential thriller re-draws maps and relativizes normality.
The word existential is a surrogate for angst: At the very center of the film there’s an emotional conflict, a dark zone, the desire to escape Palestine, the fear, the frightening possibility of disappearance: Of Palestinians before brutal Israeli occupation, of Ramallah under collapsing infrastructure and mismanagement, of homosexuals living in hiding in the Middle East under the ever lurking possibility of arrest and trial. Disappearance here is not only cessation from occupying a site, or even displacement, but the erosion of life’s metaphysical content so that the self is suspended in a state in which being neither alive nor dead, mourning is not possible: Death is not a transition from one state into another, but a bureaucratic possession of life. Mondial 2010 screams it out loud: Life is not a territory.
Mirroring Dib’s engagement with theater, the film retains something of the shadow play present in the Arab film farce from classical Egyptian cinema: “It differs from comedy by lacking production of meaning. While comedy puts events in a casual context by introducing conflict and resolving it later, farce largely consists of a loose combination of individual sketches.”3 ‘Don’t you think that Ramallah is disappearing?’ is one of the central statements in the script, but far from a question, it is an animated engagement with the politics of visual culture: “Reproductions are common in daily life. Walking through any large Arab city, you see huge posters and advertising hoardings. Products and packages carry all sort of images.”4 The roles are inverted as the apparent normality of life under occupation is presented not as surreal but as ab-real, that is, an image of the real without previous referents, an illusory world.
This "dream-world," a term borrowed from critical theory, reminds one of Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme’s multi-channel video-installation “The Zone” (2011), in which the dystopian reality of billboards and the commodification of life in the West Bank, not only obscures the ab-normality of occupation but blurs the distinction between the real and the tragic, the social and the political, the private and the public. Using a technique similar to that deployed in the literature of Spanish playwright Ramon del Valle-Inclan, known as ‘esperpento’, the artists make use of the grammar of reality in order to deform reality, or to present it as deformed. Dream and ruin overlap and situate each other not as opposites but as a language juxtaposing two versions of reality.5 Similarly, Roy Dib creates physical (geographical) nearness in order to allegorize infinite distance.
The concepts of outside and inside are rendered ineffectual because they are not situated but conditioned. Here, the medium becomes its own message and film becomes identical with the condition it creates: Longing not for memory but for experience, for reality.6 Introducing the notion of filming from far away, the physical lens of the hand-held camera in Mondial 2010 rejects the political production of reality and attempt to reproduce a different typology of "space:" Domination is eluded and by-passed by focusing on the simulacrum of everyday in Palestine, presenting actors as free agents and not merely as prisoners of violence and superfluousness. The film is a strong lamentation of statelessness as normalcy, at a time when the globalization only translates into more and more borders for those at the losing end of political maneuvering and capitalism.
While all the tensions remain unresolved and the initial question is absent from the outset, Roy Dib’s delicate treatment of violence not as an objective condition but as a traumatic repetition of symbols, liberates his lens from tedious representations of Palestine and outside the grammar of oppressed/oppressor, embedding the human dialogue of the invisible against the background of a world not based on absolute certainties but on possibilities: “We haven’t vanished yet. We haven’t become invisible yet. We still have our names, our soil, our trees, our songs, our faces. Why don’t you see us?"7
His subtle treatment of the realities of political violence is not turning a blind eye to these realities or implying that they can be resolved on the screen, but pointing at something larger which concerns the historicity of the image and our complicity in producing and reproducing narratives of violence and oppression. Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman put it succinctly: “First of all, I think that all presentation of violence promotes violence, and secondly, how does one measure a man’s suffering? Let’s say that I show a Palestinian being beaten; when I put this on the screen I limit his pain."8
Follow Arie on Twitter @Dilmunite
If you like this piece, you might also enjoy Beirut as Body Politic.
1. Meigh-Andrews, Chris, A History of Video Art, 2nd edition, Bloomsbury, 2014, pp. 102.
2. Nurith Gertz & George Khleifi, Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma and Memory, Indiana University Press, 2008, pp. 76-77.
3. Viola Shafik, Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity, The American University of Cairo Press, 2007, pp. 76.
4. Ibid, pp. 47.
5. Nurith Gertz & George Khleifi, Ibid, pp. 181.
6. Meigh-Andrews, Chris, Ibid, pp. 9, 98.
7. Nurith Gertz & George Khleifi, Ibid, pp. 80.
8. Ibid, pp. 179.
Roy Dib was the winner of the Best First Film Award at the Lebanese Film Festival, 2014 and Best Short Film at the Teddy Awards, 2014 with his short film 'Mondial 2010' (2014, 19"30'). Photography courtesy of the artist, photography for Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme courtesy of Carroll Fletcher. Roy's work has been on show at Palais de Tokyo, Video Works Ashkal Alwan, Parallel Vienna and Videobrasil. You can see the trailer of 'Mondial 2010' here.
Israel, Lebanon, Palestine