Hot Docs Review: On the Bride’s Side [Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry, Gabriele Del Grande, Antonio Augugliaro, 2015]

onthebridesside

If we have friends and countrymen who are down on their luck, we would certainly help however we can. But would you break the letters of the law to help?

That’s what several Italians did late November in 2013. Having been in war-torn Syria, they cultivated an affinity for the country, its people, and their plight. While 17 EU member states have apparently promised to help shelter Syrians fleeing the conflict, most take less than a passive role in accepting refugees, leaving them vulnerable to human traffickers, smugglers, and other illegal trades. The Italian journalists/activists decided that to do their part, they would host a sham wedding party and smuggle their Syrian friends across multiple borders, from Milan through France, Luxembourg, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, and finally to Sweden, where the refugees apparently have the best chance. The documentarians follow the bridal party,
using stories of the Syrians’ escape, humiliating treatments at the hands of many officials, and their hopes and dreams to weave together a powerful statement, in the hopes of igniting a positive response from their governments and their people.

On the Bride’s side is a very poignant, but conflicting film to watch. It is so because it asks the audience to choose between two dark sides. The calculus here really isn’t about civil disobedience to advance justice (trust me it ain’t; I’m sitting in the middle of one right now with military choppers overhead). This is a much more intricate conflict between dreams and pragmatism. As the film progresses, one realizes that on the shoulders of the Syrians in the film, sit the hopes and burdens of their family and comrades deceased and living. Many carry survivor’s guilt, and are determined to make it for the memory of those they’ve lost. While the circumstances of their acceptance into some countries were debasing, it was far more crushing to realize that the promises they followed were hollow. Yet what the filmmakers are not able to show in their one-sided quest, is that everything has a cost. Would everything be better if others heed the call and repeat this bridal party trick in other guises 50,000 times? You don’t need high school algebra to understand that no country in the world, to say very little about the world itself, has an unlimited capacity to provide economic opportunities, cultural plasticity, and substantive compassion on the books, let alone off the books. While we celebrate the bridal party’s arrival in Sweden and their chance to realize their dreams, we should also realize that xenophobia isn’t reserved for bigots. People sympathetic to refugees can still develop a sense of injustice when their society become unbalanced by those who circumvented democratically vetted (we hope) immigration process. Obviously, many are willing (and have the luxury) to wait. At the beginning of the film, one of the refugees became an Italian citizen after 5 years, and the joy of finally having a solid support behind him was quite beautiful. Other aren’t, and some times can’t afford to be so patient. Obviously one hopes that films just like this will galvanize the public to demand higher quota and more humane treatments – and the filmmakers were prescient in that this indeed came to a head recently), but I think the socio-economics of immigration should not be lightly cast aside so that we can summit the nearest moral high-ground.

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Posted on by Gary in Hot Docs, Reviews

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