By Murtaza Ali Khan
Today, immigration is a global phenomenon. Ever since the Arab Spring, it has become the central issue for many Western European countries, in particular France, Germany, and Italy. In fact, it wouldn’t be farfetched to describe it as the most divisive issue in recent times as far as global politics is concerned. Elections can be won or lost based on how a particular party chooses to project its immigration policies. Italian filmmaker Salvatore Allocca’s award-winning comedy film Taranta on the Road tells the story of a Tunisian man and a woman, Tarek and Amira, who have illegally come to Italy with the hope of a better future, after having closely witnessed the revolution in Tunisia. In a desperate bid for survival, they pretend to be a married couple in the eyes of a band of musicians, hoping for a safe passage to Paris. But, with the authorities cracking down on the illegal immigrants, how long can they really last? Taranta on the Road will have its official screening in Delhi on 23rd June, 2018 at Siri Fort Auditorium as part of the ongoing European Union Film Festival.
Taranta on the Road manages to bring to the fore several key themes that give rise to some very interesting debates surrounding the fundamental aspects of human existence. In the words of director Salvatore Allocca, “Just because they are born on the other side of the Mediterranean doesn’t mean that they lose their right to follow their dreams.” This very argument is the key to what the debate surrounding immigration boils down to. Now, exoduses have been a regular feature of the human history and every time a human race has felt the need to migrate to greener pastures it has done so. But today the things have become more complicated than ever with the borders now clearly defining the international boundaries. A man is no longer free to move to greener pastures and yet there comes a time when he isn’t left with another option. Amira and Tarek find themselves in exactly the same situation. They come to Italy after swimming across the Mediterranean with the hope of finding a sanctuary, only to encounter widespread hostility. But all is not lost as they gradually discover. For, there is still some goodness left in humanity. It is the same goodness that Allocca’s film tries to speak to.
Allocca was fortunate to find two good actors (for the parts of Amira and Tarek), who speak both Arabic and Italian and it is the authenticity that they bring to their characters that really adds a realistic edge to the film. We often see how time and again Hollywood studios end up casting Caucasian actors to play Oriental parts and the end result is almost always disastrous. And even when the casting is right they inevitably choose to make him/her speak the dialogues in English. Also, the accents become a major issue. All these factors make them look more like caricatures than real life characters. But, in Allocca’s film even the Italian characters look quite real; one never really doubts their existence. That’s precisely where a film like Taranta on the Road scores over big budget films. Yes, it may not have the best production values but it more than makes up for it with its grit and honesty. Allocca directs his actors with the kind of precision we usually associate with masters. “It is not as much about the words they speak but what you see in their eyes,” explains Allocca. It is this honesty that we see throughout the film. Also, the clever use of humor and music at regular intervals ensures that the things don’t get too serious, especially given the gravity of the themes.
Overall, Taranta on the Road is a rare film about the ordeals of immigration that don’t make us feel sorry. Yes, the hardships are real but that doesn’t mean we should stop celebrating the journey called life. It is easy to give up hope in the face of difficulties but the greater pursuit lies in putting up a fight until the very end. Often it is the little moments of joy that tend to have a greater impact on our lives than the big goals and milestones we chase endlessly like some wild goose. We are reminded that it is the journey and not the destination that is more important. More importantly, the film reinstates our faith in the goodness of mankind. But, make no mistake! Allocca can be unforgiving when he wants to; it’s just that his humanistic lens does afford the occasional laugh by choosing to see beyond the everyday tragedy that preoccupies the thinking mind. Just as Chaplin had said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
Murtaza Ali Khan is an independent film critic based out of Delhi, India. He is the editor-in-chief of A Potpourri of Vestiges and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. He has also contributed to The Hindu, The Quint, Wittyfeed, etc. He is on the guest panel for live discussions on the television channel News X.
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