On the bride’s side: crossing Fortress Europe with refugees

Tansim Fared and Abdallah Sallam, Copenhagen
Tansim Fared and Abdallah Sallam, Copenhagen

On the bride's side: crossing Fortress Europe with Syrian and Palestinian refugeesA group of Italian guys decides to help five Syrian and Palestinian immigrants to reach Sweden, where they will be granted political refugee status. In four days the group travels across Europe: from Italy to France, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark and eventually Sweden. They take a great risk of course: the refugees’ passports are scrap paper and their ‘smugglers’ can be prosecuted as they are trafficking ‘illegal immigrants’ according to European laws. In order to get to Sweden without arousing suspicion they set up a fake wedding party: who will ever dare to stop a bridal procession?

There is a fake bride, with her white dress, a fake groom and fake guests nicely dressed, with cool haircuts, and polished cars displaying white ribbons. It may seem a dreamlike story but it is actually a real one, that happened roughly one year ago, between 14 and 18 November 2013. The documentary that describes this touching journey was awarded with the FEDIC, the Human Rights Nights and Sorriso Diverso Venezia 2014 prizes at the 71st Venice Film Festival. It is now getting more and more attention, primarily in Italy, and also around Europe.

Not only the Mediterranean: the Fortress Europe

On the bride’s side wants to raise awareness of the Syrian and Palestinian refugees who flee from their homelands to escape wars and perils. In the common perception the tragedy of immigrants who reach Europe crossing the Mediterranean is associated solely with Italy. And Italy is of course one of the European countries most involved in the refugee tragedy, with hundreds of people every year trying to reach Lampedusa in old wrecks. Generally speaking, the public eye and the press concentrate on that part: refugees spending thousands of dollars to cross the Mediterranean and reach Italian shores. What happens next is not fully understood, nor explained.

The group that will take part to the trip

The group that will take part to the trip

With On the bride’s side another part of the same story is underlined: what happens after the immigrants reach Italy? Where do they go? And how do they get there? Of course Italy is not the final destination: it is simply a transit country. Syrians fleeing the war in their country know that in Sweden they would be granted political refugee status, but in order to reach Northern Europe they must find other smugglers.

The authors of the documentary have underlined in many interviews how the documentary is primarily a political project that aims to challenge the notion of Fortress Europe. The European Union seen as a fortress, where some people do not enjoy any right and cannot freely move, in sharp contrast to the lack of borders perceived by EU citizens. A fortress people cannot enter, and that has no unified policy regarding immigration and refugees. A blind entity that does not see that the trafficking of people is not limited to crossing the Mediterranean, but takes place also within its territory. A closed Europe. One of the Syrian protagonists says it out loud in the documentary: every state declares it would help Syrian refugees fleeing the war, but once you arrive you realise that is not true.

But in the documentary, contrasting the Fortress, made up of laws and politics, there also emerges a welcoming and helpful Europe with common people cooperating to help others. A ‘trans¬national, supportive and irreverent Europe that ridicules the laws and restrictions of the Fortress’.

Abdallah Sallam names the people died during the Mediterranean crossing at the Passo della Morte (Death Pass), between Italy and France

Abdallah Sallam names the people who died during the Mediterranean crossing at the Passo della Morte (Death Pass), between Italy and France

The human dimension

Apart from the political content, the documentary can be seen and interpreted in other perspectives too. The aesthetic and symbolic dimension of the image of the bride, for instance, or the meaning of the travel, not only in its physical and material connotation. After watching the documentary, I wondered what actually was the most powerful impression that the film gave me, and I must admit it is a pretty simple one, but yet maybe the most meaningful. What strongly emerges from the documentary is the human dimension, at all levels. The five Syrians and Palestinians (Abdallah Sallam, Ahmad Abed, Mona al-Ghabra, Alaa al-Din Bjermi, and the young MC Manar) together with the fake bride (Tansim Fared) share with their peculiar smugglers their personal stories and experiences in Syria and Palestine, their fears and hope. Through their accounts, we can better grasp the human part of the conflicts. The people who are dying in the wars and while crossing the sea are not sheer numbers, they actually have names and lives, and deserve to be remembered one by one, as Abdallah Sallam does in one of the most touching parts of the film.

The dock of Copenhagen

The dock of Copenhagen

The whole documentary/political project was based on people, literally. People taking a risk to help others, people hosting the full group during their travel, people who shared the fear of being caught and the hope of making it to Sweden. As the three authors (Antonio Augugliaro, Gabriele Del Grande, and Khaled Soliman al-Nassiry) say: “if there was one thing that stopped the crew from abandoning us on the very first day, it was the atmosphere that was created”.

What’s more, even the production phase was deeply connected with single individuals, and again the human dimension of things: the documentary was financed through a crowdfunding campaign that raised funds from 2,617 backers scattered around the world. And their names are listed, one by one, in the longest end credits sequence that I can remember.

The human dimension is something that pervades the whole documentary, making it particularly touching and powerfully direct. It provides for sure a new way of understanding what is happening in Syria, Palestine, the Mediterranean, and Europe, keeping in mind that it is not a matter of numbers but of real people.

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