This brief experimental documentary about the migration crisis comes from Italian artists and film-makers Maria Iorio and Raphaël Cuomo and is a collage of unused footage from video pieces they have made together over the past 15 years. It’s a film with interesting things to say about the fortressing of Europe during that time,and the hardening of policies against migrants and asylum seekers. But I confess to finding it hard going and slightly frustrating. By the end I wondered if it might not have worked better as a gallery installation alongside the duo’s earlier works.
It opens in 2006, at night on Lampedusa, the tiny Sicilian island where thousands fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East arrive on dinghies and small boats every year. We’re in a car parked on a busy dock and a man, heard not seen, hums a song, trying to remember words in Arabic. This is Abdelhamid, who is Tunisian and employed as a seasonal worker at a hotel on the island. He’s also an interpreter for the film-makers.
In the present day we hear director Iorio reminding Abdelhamid of some of the experiences they shared: visiting an archaeological museum to see ancient mosaics, interviewing a researcher. But it’s not always easy to follow her voiceover.
Chronicles of That Time is a film of fragments. Like the mosaic, scenes are tiles from which a portrait gradually emerges. We hear snippets of an interview with two Tunisian men in their 20s who talk about living and working undocumented in Europe before being deported. There are musical interludes, and Iorio laments how inhumane policies against migrants that provoked outrage have become the norm. Just as Abdelhamid has forgotten the words to his song, society has lost something a sense of compassion.
This is a film that boldly subverts our expectations of a documentary about the migrant: this is not hand-wringing in any way. But it lacks the power and intimacy of Gianfranco Rosi’s Oscar-nominated Fire at Sea; I found myself feeling a little adrift, wanting to know more about the reality of the lives of people it features.