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Documentary wounds

Xenos (2013) and A Man Returned (2015) Directed by Mahdi Fleifel

Xenos (2013) and A Man Returned (2015)
Regissør: Mahdi Fleifel

Palestinian-Danish Mahdi Fleifel's films express the refugee's pain and despair.

(PS. This article is machine-translated from Norwegian)

The Palestinian-Danish Mahdi Fleifel refugee documentaries Xenos (2013) and A Man Returned (2015) is like wounds – a kind of stated and distressed topical poetry that wants to mix blood with its audience. It becomes too safe, clean and vague to call these "documentary portraits". The films are more prickly and scraping than fabricating: They root in real wounds and really let those wounds feel through their more broken and broken than clear and presentable expressions.

benefitsorientering. This is especially true Xenos, a fragmentary "travel journal" that takes the form of a heart that burns – as much of apathy as of embrace of life. In this 13 minute film, we follow Palestinian Abu Eyad and others who have traveled from the refugee camp of Ain El-Helweh in Lebanon, and have ended up in Greece. The film shows their life in Athens where they walk the streets or sit in a basement apartment – a makeshift home – or talk to friends who are still in Palestine. "Maybe I can come and visit you in Greece?" One asks, before Abu cash replies, "Why, my friend?" To get through the days and nights, Abu takes heroin and prostitutes in the park.

The visual and auditory recordings are usually asynchronous – we see images that do not directly belong to the conversations. The film's movement from picture to picture (often by Abu and his friends walking around and smoldering in the city streets, which seems monotonous, narrow and endless) and from conversation to conversation (which seems to go in circles), also feels rippling and partially incoherent. Xenos thus creating their own time of confusion, directionlessness and hopelessness.

Both the still and movie images are also blurry, grainy and full of motion, and the sounds of the phone calls are characterized by poor connection or noisy recordings. This gives the film a raw asphalt aesthetic that calls attention to its own physical bondage and mental turmoil. The film's sad and fragmentary expressions convey, on the one hand, a vague grip on the situation it "reflects" (for an ornate word), and on the other, an incorporated empathy with Abu.

Xenos gives us not only sensory impressions from the refugees' surroundings that reveal the living conditions; it suppresses pain and despair and encircles us in its depression. Nor does the film save us from its own and the refugees' desorientering, and feels alike disintegrated as the people it follows. And here, in this wounded (what other word can we use?) lies its flammable and disillusioned lyric.

The strangers. In one of the film's audio and video recordings, a graffiti message is filmed on a yellow wall, commented on by two of Abus' Palestinian friends:

«I am not an Athenian

or a Greek but

and citizen of the WORLD. ”


"Is this English, Reda?" ask one of them. Reda answers in the affirmative, but says he does not understand what the words mean. The camera pulls away from the quote and down to Reda standing beneath it. We see him as a silhouette in front of the masonry wall (the distinctive lip beard makes it clear that it is Red), whose yellow color radiates anything but the vividness it would express on the paper. Reda looks to the right, and the camera follows his gaze as he discovers two new quotes:

"There is a measure in all things."


"We are what we repeatedly do."


The film does not dwell long on these thoughts; we go back to the men smoking smokers in the streets, while we hear the phone conversation between Abu and his friend, characterized by hopelessness, characterized by Abu feeling like a xenos – a Greek term for "a stranger, an enemy," a alien – not just in Greece, but in the world and maybe even to themselves.

Director Mahdi Fleifel won many awards for the documentary A World Not Ours (Alam laysa lana) from 2012. Here we also followed Abu and other Palestinians, then in the refugee camp Ain El-Helweh. In this film, Abu (in what is a long-standing close-up of a kind of abandoned face) talks about the sense of inferiority that has been imprinted on him throughout his upbringing. Feeling worthless is not something that occurs in Greece – because of the Israeli occupation, Abu has been treated as an inferior throughout his life, including through the ban on working in his own country.

Standstill. Mahdi himself grew up in the refugee camp with Abu – yes, Abu is one of his best friends. Although Mahdi is a privileged filmmaker living in Europe, he probably knows well the unworthy situation he is thematizing in his films. In the
last, A Man Returned, which has been shown in Grimstad and at the Minimal in Trondheim, we follow one of his other childhood friends, Reda, also known from A World Not Ours og Xenos. Reda has returned to the refugee camp in Lebanon after her stay in Athens. Here he continues to dope, and he walks around the camp's crowded streets – a makeshift civilization – with a gun tucked recklessly behind his trouser belt. Here he is out shopping, meeting people and selling heroin – and the camera is close to him.

Although the documentary is structured around an upcoming marriage – Reda will marry in the camp – it is characterized by emotional downturn. The film operates in an intimate, claustrophobic mode of observation: In an unforgettable picture we see Reda in the foreground, while he hurriedly puts a shot almost hidden behind a wall separating the kitchen and living room, where the family sits. Although there is a tension in the picture (will the mother, in the background, come in?), It is first and foremost an expressive "everyday picture" on a tragic standstill.

A Man Returned og Xenos both consist of observational reality recordings with a bleeding expression.A Man Returneds street proximity gives us a chaotic portrait of life in a Palestinian refugee camp, and Xenos' muted montages of "heroin-influenced" and trapped Athens images express a boundless pain – wounded to the strangers in the world.


The movie is coming soon…

Teaches film studies at NTNU Email endreeid@gmail.com

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