viewed Tyneside Cinema 28 June 2016; ticket £9.25
knock knock who’s there…? someone missing…?
Lampedusa as filmed by Gianfranco Rosi is a visual paean to oppositions: the empty /the full, the ordered/ the chaotic, the open/ the closed, internal / the external, within time/without timeAnd more.
Oppositions organised in geographic proximity. Islanders and refugees both sharing space on this small Mediterranean island.But now you see them now you don’t.On the island we see the islanders but we don’t see the migrants, they are invisible, their new European identities as the ‘unseen’ already anticipated.
On Lampedusa the streets are empty, the escapees confined to their own enclaves.
The islanders lead out their traditional lives on Lampedusa, life ordered by a natural unfolding of time that divides into past present future.The refugees and migrants live outside the order of time, compressed into a chaotic hallucinogenic now.
The islanders are rooted on rock and lapped by the sea. The migrants travelling across water, crashing onto the rocks or scooped out of the Mediterranean are alive if they are lucky, dead if they are not. They are trapped in endless motions in which time has ceased to be a significant marker of life.For the migrants the imperative is ‘escape’ to not stop fleeing until they find something. When in due course, they leave Lampedusa they leave no imprint on the island other than on the statistical compilations of NGOs.More than 400,000 thousand passed through, ghosts rather than solid entities.
Without commentary and working though image simple, many of Rosi’s shots comprise two great encompassers of Lampedusa:sea and sky.Images that Rossi exploits, but which conjure different associations for the islanders and migrants.
The sea before and sky overhead stretch out around and over, containing the sentience of all beings.For the islanders the surrounding waters are their environment, a living testament to their collective history, the source of their food and livelihood.For the arrivees, the migrants the sea is experienced otherwise:as barrier ordeal and death.The sky that hangs over Lampadusa hangs over all beings.For the islanders this sky with rolling clouds signifies the here and now, the intensity of the present, it mediates action, reflects back consciousness of life.For the arrivees it barely exists as a psychic immediacy.On Lampedusa the migrants are as if in a state of trance they are trapped in their own internal landscapes.
An island boy whittles wood to make his catapult;a Nigerian recounts as a liturgy in collective form the ordeal of his flight: “We crossed the dessert the dessert could not stop us, we crossed the mountains the mountains could not stop us, we ran to the sea, the sea could not stop us.”
The effect of his words echoes the power of the old testament, the cry of a people lost in the wilderness, a people possessed by the spirit.
Although the images are not juxtaposed in Rosi’s edit, I somehow connected this liturgical listing of ordeals survived and overcome with the long duration shot of the grandmother making up her bed.The order the certainty represented in this act of meticulous physical geometry; the ecclesiastic lay out of her bedroomwith its saints and sacred objects.A feeling of deadness in this bedroom, reflected and compounded in the images of dead migrants suffocated in the steerage hold of their boat, lying in filth and squalor, perhaps many of them without names.The dead are everywhere.
I understand that Rosi wanted to make a pure film. In which images manipulated and exploited would stand for any words that might or could be said.But the human voice is part of our world. Rosi’s Fire at Sea felt like a piece of filmic surgery, a clinicians assemblage of images.As Rosi knocked on the door of Lampedusa it seemed as if he was not there.He had absented himself.
And perhaps this is OK.No voice. Rosi in avoiding the stories of refugees and migrants the staple of radio and TV, Rosi, abstracting his material reaches out into the reality of the the void of refugees and migrants.They are people stripped out of time, stripped out of history, a group of people living in a timevoid. A void which groups like Isis seek, in their own time to fill, by giving back to those lost in time the precious gift of time. This is a film about the medium of time.