Marginal Road

Through a series of personal stories and experiences, this 57 minute documentary video explores the construction of the concept of exile in the mind.
This project was made possible with grants from The Canada Council for the Arts and the National Film Board of Canada.

(Watch complete video below)

Exile on Marginal Road

 A review by Endre Farkas

Exile, according to Oxford Encyclopedic Dictionary, is “the state of being expelled from one’s native land.”  This is true, but it is so much more than a physical displacement; it is a psychological, emotional, familial and cultural deracination. It is a state that is imposed rather than voluntary. Or, as Yassaman Ameri puts it so succinctly,in her powerful film Marginal Road “Exile is what is not there but should be and exile is what is but shouldn’t be.”

Repressive regimes know this only too well, and use it to silence dissidents. You can imprison someone but that imprisonment, no matter how severe or cruel, cannot really be as effective as exile. To exile a person, especially one who is artistically engaged, is to suffocate them painfully by cutting off the familial, psychological, cultural and creative oxygen that they need to flourish and grow, and, in turn, do the same to the land and the people the person is exiled from. This is one of the major subtexts that runs through Ameri’s powerful Marginal Road.

Marginal Road begins with a striking image of a suitcase against a black backdrop. The suitcase, a symbol of leaving, can be interpreted many ways. However, set against a black background makes sure that we can only interpret it as a sad departure.  It has a somber, lonely aura about it. It is a symbol of leaving against one’s will. The metamorphosis of the suitcase into a passport is a creative imagistic opening paragraph suggesting what is to unfold.

The next powerful composition is an overhead shot of a woman kneeling on a Persian rug that fills the entire screen. In front of her is the same suitcase from the opening shot, open, waiting to be filled with the practical, emotional and psychological necessities for leaving. This exquisitely painful, slow stretch of ten minutes feels like an eternity. It is a beautifully, hauntingly composed metaphor for exile. This scene is a film within a film. I think it, itself, says it all. I could watch this over and over again and not get bored. It is a richly layered tapestry about the complex and painful process and effect of exile.

What breaks the viewer’s heart is the time it takes her to pack and the way she packs and what she packs and then unpacks; what she has to leave behind. This scene raises an interesting dilemma. By leaving she is becoming an exile but also, as a liberated Muslim woman in the “new Ayatollah Iran”, her leaving is freedom. Exile for her is a double edged scimitar.   

However slow or painful this packing is, like the exiled, the film, in a slow and evocative way, moves on.  The pacing and the rhythm of the film goes against the grain of contemporary films that I have seen. It takes its time. You breathe the pain, sadness, and enormity of the loss and the feeling of being lost that washes over the exiled.

The film is composed of what I, as a poet would call verses, but what I also suppose are scenes that narrate the journey of exile. And these scenes/verses build upon what was seen, felt and experienced before. The narration, delivered in a quiet, subdued manner is insightful without being pretentiously meaningful.  It is delicately woven into the film. It is not an accompaniment to the film but an integral part of it. Only once or twice does it literally mirror the image.

Ms. Ameri’s journey of exile is not unlike many other people’s but it is unique because she combines her fine artistic sensibility with her experience that makes it personal (therefore unique) and universal at the same time.

This film is rich with visual images that combines the sensitivity, insight and intelligence of an individual who has deeply experienced exile with a photographer’s eye for the captured moment and a filmmaker’s sense of moving images (in both senses of the phrase).

I especially liked the collage of the letters, envelopes with fading texts as a metaphor of the metamorphosis that takes place with the passing of time. It is the lifeline of families that goes on but becomes more and more disconnected and distant.

Those in exile often yearn to return to their homeland; but they also know that, while they can go back, they can never go home again. Ms. Ameri can’t even go back. She is not permitted.  But like a creative guerrilla, she does get to see her home, and hear its sadness in a plaintive violin piece played by a relative—all thanks to technology.

This is followed by a touching lament of the exile who not only wants to see but also be seen. It is created by her hauntingly simple text and the jerky imagery of cell phone videos of demonstrations shot during the recent Iranian demonstrations of 2009.

There is much in this film to feel, hear and see. Yassaman Ameri has created an understated but powerful “docu-poemantary” of what it truly is to be an exile. The condition is not recommended but the film is certainly one to seen.

August 28, 2011