– Autumn/Winter 2010

Events, Works, Exhibitions

The Body on Stage and Screen

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

The premise behind Photo-Romance (2009), a ninety-minute performance by Rabih Mroué and Lina Saneh, is the adaptation of a film that is never mentioned by name and only obliquely referenced on stage. Ettore Scola's Una giornata particolare (A Special Day, 1977), starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, takes place over the course of a single day in the spring of 1938, when Adolf Hilter pays a visit to Benito Mussolini in Rome. Loren plays Antonietta, a beautiful but long-suffering housewife, married to a card-carrying fascist and limited in her worldview. Antonietta's entire family has gone to join the parades and celebrations marking the historic encounter, leaving her alone for the day. Mastroianni plays Gabriele, a radio broadcaster, recently sacked from his job and about to be deported by the authorities for harbouring not only anti-fascist but also homosexual inclinations, who happens to live in the same apartment block. The two meet when Antonietta's bird escapes its cage, flies out the window and lands on Gabriele's ledge. They befriend one another, fight, form an unexpectedly intimate bond and feel, throughout the film, for the edges of each other's solitude.

As the background story of Photo- Romance goes, at some point during the conceptualisation of the piece, Mroué sought out one of Scola's heirs to ask for permission to adapt the film - a gesture of courtesy more than legal compliance. To Mroué's surprise, the heir turned him down. Who knows what shape or structure the performance might have taken had Scola's heir said yes, but the refusal seems to have pushed Mroué and Saneh to peel back and reflect on their artistic practices and critical intentions. The result

  1. Photo-Romance is performed in Arabic with English supertitles.

  2. These two alliances formed in the aftermath of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination on 14 February 2005. Demonstrations began on the night of Hariri's death, as people gathered in downtown Beirut to hold vigils and demand an international investigation into his murder. These gatherings escalated into calls for an end to Syria's de facto occupation of the country (Syrian forces had been deployed in Lebanon for more than 30 years, and Syria was widely accused of orchestrating the assassination). The demonstrations, which were staged day after day and night after night, gained momentum with the resignation of Omar Karami's pro-Syrian government on 28 February 2005. On 8 March pro-Syrian parties such as Amal and Hezbollah staged counter-demonstrations to thank Syria for its support and supervision. On 14 March pro-Western parties such as the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Phalange Party and the Democratic Left staged a massive demonstration in response, demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops, which were indeed withdrawn on 29 April. Both groups claim that their rival demonstrations drew a million people to downtown Beirut. Although the alliances are primarily marriages of political convenience, the March 14 coalition is, in general, pro-Western, economically liberal and seeks the political normalisation of Hezbollah, which would mean disarming the group and putting an end to the resistance against Israel as it exists now, in the hands of a non-state actor. The March 8 coalition is pro-Syrian, supports Hezbollah's right to remain armed and views the economic policies of the March 14 group as self-serving and corrupt. Both the March 8 and March 14 camps are multiconfessional and include both secular and religious parties. On the local scene, where MroueÅL's works are read for their politics well before they are considered for their aesthetics, some have criticised Photo-Romance for being one-sided, heavily critical of the March 8 coalition and the all-consuming ideology of resistance, without subjecting the March 14 coalition to the same scrutiny.

  3. Saree Makdisi, 'Laying Claim to Beirut: Urban Narrative and Spatial Identity in the Age of Solidere', Critical Inquiry, vol.23, Spring 1997, p.664.

  4. Chantal Mouffe, The Return of the Political, London and New York: Verso, 1998, p.97.