No Passports and a Wedding Dress

On the Bride’s Side Makes its Canadian Premiere at this Week’s Edition of Cinema Politica

  • Courtesy of Cinema Politica

  • Courtesy of Cinema Politica

  • Courtesy of Cinema Politica

“The sky belongs to everybody, for it has no borders.”
The statement is scribbled in charcoal on the wall of a forgotten shack in the Italian hills. For the five refugees in between home and nation during the aftermath of one of the bloodiest civil wars of the millennium, the vast expanse of blue is perhaps their last claim of belonging.

The Canadian premiere of the crowd-funded documentary On the Bride’s Side will bring to Montreal the real story of men and women who crossed over 3000 miles and six countries to reach Sweden.

Fleeing the chaos, slaughter and destruction of the Syrian Civil War, they head to the European safe-haven for political refugees. The film also lifts the veil on a dark reality: people seeking asylum are not unconditionally welcome.

Without passports, the survivors who have managed to reach the continent face deportation to African refugee camps of questionable salubriousness and unquestionable under-resourcing.

Khaled Soliman al Nassiry, a co-writer and director of the documentary and one of the key agents in securing safe passage for the victims, laments: “In Europe, it is against the law to help ‘illegals,’ as they call them.” He and the others who helped the group into the continent risked their freedom, but they could do no differently.The five refugees in the film are only a subset of the 6.5 million people who have been internally and externally displaced since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.

The battles often spill over from Israel to Iran, and neighbouring countries as far as Libya have been temporarily housing millions of refugees in camps with ongoing supply shortages. Many thousands hope for a new beginning on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea.

But since immigration laws in most of Europe allow no leeway for those fleeing war zones, they are reduced to being smuggled across borders by human traffickers.
Gabriele del Grande, an Italian journalist and specialist in immigration laws who covered the war in Syria in 2013 for Internazionale, was morally compelled to help. Together with al Nassiry and Antonio Augugliaro, he devised a plan to take the five Syrian and Palestinian refugees they met in Milan to Sweden.

They would stage a fake wedding, with a caravan of cars decorated with white ribbons—because, as they put it, “who would ever stop a wedding procession?” The bride’s immaculate wedding dress would become their ticket to a new life away from war.
The resulting film, documenting the four day trek on foot, by car and by train, is an ode to the stubbornness of a few righteous people in the face of an unjust system. It is not enough to read about wartime tragedies on the news, or to watch Hollywood-scripted re-enactments glorified for a paying audience.

The five refugees in the film are only a subset of the 6.5 million people who have been internally and externally displaced since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.

To truly understand the suffering of another, to humanly feel the pain that these refugees experience in their loss and suffering, you must share in their real stories, their anguish and their tears.
Perhaps, in our cold corner of the world, we cannot do much in regards to wars across the ocean. But in sharing and empathizing with them, in hearing them name their fallen loved ones and in watching them write in beautiful Arabic cursive on the walls of dilapidated shacks on the lost Italian hillside, we are not letting them be forgotten.

It’s easy to lose faith in humanity when one sees the self-serving laws that reduce the lives of real people to mere unsavoury numbers. But On the Bride’s Side, in bringing to the surface questions of nationality, of belonging and of home with striking emotional depth, argues that a passport does not buy you a place on the right side of the system. That place is not earned by luck-of-the-draw in where you are born. It is a right of all human beings born under the blue sky.

On the Bride’s Side // Cinema Politica @ Concordia’s Hall Building (Room H-110) // Monday, Jan. 26 // 7 p.m.

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