An Unconventional Angle
Mario Rizzi’s Al Intithar (The Waiting)
Since 1999, Italian artist and filmmaker Mario Rizzi has used film-based media to present works decidedly anthropocentric in nature. His work gives voice to the marginalised, underprivileged and, in particular, to refugees. After Out of Place (Best Artist Prize in Sharjah Biennial 2005), a six-screen video installation narrating the life of second-generation emigrants in Paris, Rizzi shot impermanent, which was selected for the Berlin Film Festival 2008. In this short film, Ali Akilah, a 96-year-old Palestinian doctor living in Amman but born in Lifta (a Palestinian village whose territory is now part of west Jerusalem), narrates the story of his life. The work, filmed together with the footage for a larger six-screen video installation entitled neighbours, is a reflection on the 'state of exception', a concept developed by Giorgio Agamben that views the suspension of the juridical order as the normal paradigm of government in the policy of modern states.
'A state of exception' is an apt description for the situation Rizzi depicts in Al Intithar (The Waiting), his most recent film, which premiered in the short film competition at the Berlin Film Festival 2013. A co-production with the Sharjah Art Foundation, Rizzi filmed the life of Syrian refugees at camp Zaatari in the Jordanian desert over several weeks, from September to November 2012. Al Intithar (The Waiting) is the first part of a trilogy – Bayt (House) – that reflects on the emergence of a new civic imagination through the stories of individuals in Malaysia, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Syria. Through these films, the artist explores the relationship of the inner and outer connotations of life from various angles, the relationship between private and public engagement, the intersections of individual lives and the different events that form common histories.
Rizzi draws his inspiration for the Bayt trilogy from the author Anthony Shadid, who wrote in his book House of Stone:
It translates literally as house, but its connotations resonate beyond rooms and walls, summoning longings gathered about family and home. In the Middle East, bayt is sacred. Empires fall. Nations topple. Borders may shift. Old loyalties may dissolve or, without warning, be altered. Home, whether it be structure of familiar ground, is finally the identity that does not fade.
In Al Intithar, the notion of home has become a sore spot in the life of the protagonists, as they have been forced to leave their own. In the work, Rizzi filmed the life of Syrian refugees at camp 'Zaatari' in Jordan over several weeks from September to November 2012. Detached from their native lands, home is no longer a rooted existence or a solid place for female protagonist Ekhlas Alhlwani, but instead becomes a tent: a temporary housing structure. Rizzi offers an unconventional perspective on narrating a revolutionary event such as the war in Syria and its impact on the people and their everyday life. He translates the macrocosmos of larger political events in Syria to an intimate microcosmos of one woman and her family in the camp.
Alhlwani, the main character, never looks directly into the camera. Nor do her family members or the people she knows and meets on the street. Thus, the viewer never knows if one is viewing something real or staged: a fictional narration. There is no consecutive narrative, no interrogation or interview and no foreseeable plot. The sense of detachment is in part due to the fact that the artist doesn't speak Arabic and, although working with an Arabic assistant/ translator, does not choose what to film on the basis of the dialogue. 'Not knowing the language allows me to look and observe, rather than focus on what is being said. Words do not distract me and I can focus on the facial expressions and the interaction of people instead,' says Rizzi. The unforeseeable plot and this lack of linear narrative is part of what the artist aims to convey – the unknowing of when the waiting may come to an end: waiting for Assad to go, for the food delivery to come, for something to change.
As it does not take sides in the conflict, Al Intithar is not a political statement, per se. The impact of the film lies within its slow pacing and unconventional narrative structure, paralleling the status quo of the life of the refugees. Every day lives and unpredictable futures are mirrored in the coincidental dramaturgy of the film itself.
Al Intithar was presented at the Middle East Now Film Festival in Florence in April 2013, before being shown as part of the exhibition The Waiting at Villa Romana in Florence from 10th April to 24th May 2013.
Ibraaz will be publishing an interview with Mario Rizzi as part of Platform 005, set to launch on Tuesday, 7th May 2013.