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They are left behind daily struggles

Those Who Remain
Regissør: Ester Sparatore
( Frankrike,Italia, Belgia)

WOMEN'S WORK / By gradually revealing the big picture, this observational documentary illuminates not only those who disappeared during the Arab Spring, but also the daily and perpetual work of the departed women.


It is only in the film's final text that we see the tragic numbers: 504 Tunisian migrants heading for the coast of Italy during the Arab Spring are still missing. IN Those who remain shares about El Khir, a woman who does not know where her husband is, her history and everyday life.

Initially, Om El Khir enters the film as a narrative voice: first behind a black screen, then behind a half-open turquoise door without a lock or handle. Then we see her from behind; She is having a conversation on the cell phone while talking to her children, who are in another room. Then she sits on a couch with a large framed picture in her lap. The picture is a portrait of a man, and she whispers to her youngest child that she should give him a kiss. The child embraces the picture and whispers: "Dad."

Women at work

In these first pictures, the viewers are given the two most important premises for the film: The father in the family is missing and the mother has to juggle several tasks at the same time. One of the film's peculiar qualities is the way care, fear, love and friendship are portrayed through women at work – as they cook, clean the bed, unpack children's clothing. About El Khir manages to take care of her children – from meeting basic needs and upbringing to providing them with schooling – while organizing the women's struggle to find their missing spouses and sons. Her very first words indicate that she also participates in the organization of the filming. She seems self-conscious at first, she changes her hair color and dresses more modern. But the emphasis on women's work is not something she does. Nor is it a result of the director trying to hide the film camera's observant gaze on her daily life. Rather the opposite: One and often one child looks into the camera, and we hear guests comment: "Oh yes, you guys, just keep going." way to work – they are constantly changing. The director, who has the advantage of having a female look, simply brings this to light.

Gradually, the world outside the family's four walls will appear. We see a modern Tunisia with the evidence of technological advancement – digital TV, printers and mobile phones – woven into traditions such as circumcision and local clothing. A world where sandy beaches and dirty streets blend with glossy corridors and the glass walls of official buildings.

One of the film's distinctive qualities is the way care, fear, love and friendship are portrayed through women at work.

We are on the other side of the migration. The children play in shallow water ponds by the sea. They have fun playing that a box they find is a boat, and that the boat has finally reached Lampedusa.

People's protest

The story is painstakingly structured in two parallel directions. As Om El Khir gets more and more relaxed during the film, we get to know her better, and we even get to see her play in bands and dance. At the same time, the struggle to get information about the missing is becoming increasingly public.

In a fascinating way, the film manages to provide viewers with all the necessary information just by showing everyday scenes without commentary, titles or direct inquiries to the camera. We get to see everything via Om El Khir as we join her in errands, meetings and street demonstrations, and by observing and listening to organizational discussions, quarrels between activists and misunderstandings about gatherings. During one of these meetings, the pain is conveyed to those in attendance who have waited in vain for information about their loved ones as they explain why they decided to block traffic on the Bizerte Bridge. We see them on the bridge, holding up portraits of their missing family members and sitting in front of the cars to confront their fellow citizens. They shout, "Give us our kids back!" until the voices are drowned by police sirens. This incremental structure is capable of justifying the viewers, if not the authorities, the actions of the protesters, and provides a unique analysis of the people's protest.

Melita Zajc
Melita Zajc
Zajc is a media writer, researcher and film critic. She lives and works in Slovenia, Italy and Africa.

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