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Hello, I’m Brussels. How is it going with me? Documentary maker Maria Tarantino takes us off on a trip around Brussels: capital city, world city, our city. During the various encounters and chance situations, she explores the soul and contrasts of this hugely diverse metropolis, which has fragments of stories hidden behind every facade. Our City is a kaleidoscopic portrait of Brussels based on its residents, a subjective collage that reveals on screen a human urban space with a complex identity. Who is Brussels?
Written & directed by
Maria Tarantino, Maarten Schmidt
Rudi Maerten, Menno Boerema
Origan Cannella, Bruno Schweisguth
Origan Cannella, Maxime Coton
Michaël Cinquin, Josja van Zadelhoff
Mieke De Wulf
Virginie Surdej, Katrien Vermeire, Johan Legraie, Benjamin Lauwers
Gedeon Depauw, Olivier Philippart, Ophelie Boully, Rafaël Sellekaerts, Alexander Baert
Ruben Van Der hammen
Klaas Boelen, Khristine Gillard
Olivier Dodier, Marianne Verwilghen, Hussein al Zubaidi
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Beursschouwburg, GALERIES Cinéma
Pieter van Huystee Film (Amsterdam), Lichtpunt, CVB (Centre Vidéo de Bruxelles)
With the support of
Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds, Nederlands Filmfonds, Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles et de Voo, Atelier Cinéma Gsara, Vlaams-Nederlands Huis deBuren (Brussels), Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest, Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie, Vlaamse Overheid - Coördinatie Brussel, KVS (Brussels), Vlaams Cultuurhuis De Brakke Grond (Amsterdam), Commune Molenbeek Saint-Jean/Gemeente Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Kunstenfestivaldesarts
Screening in Brussels supported by
Brasserie de la Senne
Our City has been a five-year-long adventure, a boundless exploration, a struggle for clarity, a love affair with complexity, a reconciliation with one’s demons, a free field for experimentation, an exercise in provocation, a tentative fairy tale, a large chunk of life shared with a great many people who gave us time and attention and allowed us an entry into their world.
I remember a night spent high-up in an elevator with the technician who was changing the light bulbs in the street lights along the Rue de la Loi, four metres above the ground, with cars smoothly rolling past below us. And the spring afternoon on the Mont des Arts, when the tree-pruners came to trim the upper branches of the trees, creating a flat green surface. Armed with chainsaws, they emerged like centaurs from a thick carpet of foliage suspended over the tree trunks. It was a surreal image of the city, with the large green field in mid-air and the perspective of historical buildings all round. But what mattered most was this feeling of elevation, of being suspended above the ground. I was looking for that feeling from the very beginning, attracted by the idea of a camera that can float freely in space, unhindered. Not the empty point of view of a machine but a visibility full of energy, a visibility that can be described as a dance of life. We were inspired by the exploits of Kalatozov in I Am Cuba without the means to achieve them ourselves, but it sometimes enabled us to transcend documentary reality.
It was like spinning around, as we drove in circles in the car with the camera attached to the bonnet. We were like children reinventing the city through their games – coming across a group of Eastern European youngsters improvising acrobatics in the street. I remember walking back home when I met Hassan, a young boy from Pakistan, in a playground near Place Anneessens, where he was attempting to play football with some of the local kids. Hassan’s family had just landed in Brussels, but he was dreaming of continuing the journey to England, to one day be able to play football at Wembley Stadium! Children dream in the shadow of their parents’ dreams!
Playfulness – taking the city for a ride, we improvised being urban clowns wearing orange overalls and waving Formula One flags in front of a river of cars that had stopped at the traffic lights on the Rue de la Loi, the Law Street. In a Dadaist performance, we would incite drivers to hurry to work, waving our flags and stepping out of our cars, engines roaring, before the light turned green. Passers-by asked us what we were protesting against. They were quite disconcerted when we answered that we were not protesting at all. Such are the expectations on Law Street, in the capital of bureaucracy.
Private and public rituals – all those small and big actions people and communities perform to create a stronger connection to a place or to themselves. They could be as small and invisible as the man contemplating the Brussels skyline from the esplanade at the Kunstberg, the one place in Brussels that reminds him of the mountains of his Turkish village back home. They could be as painful as cutting off the bark of the trees with a knife on the Boulevard du Jardin Botanique, where a Congolese woman marked, in her own way, her goodbye to this city before she set off to her home country due to terminal illness. They could be as political as the occupation of cranes on the Place de Brouckère by a group of asylum-seekers on hunger strike: their way to turn people’s glances upward and to make them aware of their often-silenced plight. This was the landscape of the film before the film. Many important and touching situations did not make the final cut but nourished my reflections. They made the film that exists now possible and will always remain in my heart.
Silence – the wonderful silence of empty buildings and wasteland, spaces that no longer make sense, or not yet, in terms of economic gain, and which lie there, sleepy and beautiful, wonderfully promising for those who dare imagine things differently. Like the roof of the Administrative Centre – the first roof that anticipates the many roofs that were to appear in the film – with its vast, endless hallways and brutally smashed floors. Or the grass expanse of Tour & Taxis, where we constructed two clay ovens by hand and cooked lamb one summer’s night, in preparation for a barbecue and concert for the people who had been involved in the film. It was intended to be the end sequence and a celebration of the collective working process.
This curiosity for space and the use you can make of it is how we became involved in the exploration of worksites, above all, at Place Schuman, a wondrous project involving the restoration of a listed building, the construction of a new one, and the creation of a train junction below these! Every day, the site changed, together with the pathways that were safe and those that had become dangerous. Klaas Boelen and I filmed this process over three years. We were fascinated by the physical confrontation with its vast and changing choreography, mesmerized by the sudden musicality of its noises. The most memorable moments happened at night time, during the epic process of pouring cement over the wire cages that dozens of men had been weaving together with pliers during the day, or when the darkness of the silent site was interrupted by a sudden gash of fire from the welders, perched high among intricate metal beams. The scene filmed from the container was a gift from Marcel and Manu, two workers who had seen us haunting the site for years. The flying container became a metaphor for the city, together with the images of the worksite: construction as a process that can be creative and that can take into account the needs and desires of people.
The film moves like an endless horizontal gaze, from one situation to the next, on the strength of an association of ideas or a visual texture. Sometimes it’s the poet and taxi driver Koresh Garegani who drives viewers from one place to the next; sometimes it’s the children playing in the city. We are constantly traversing space and contemplating a wide array of situations that exist within the same city but are seldom thought of as making up a whole. I’m not referring to some sort of entertaining multicultural trip or a fashionable catalogue of diversity, but to the messy, harsh and yet touching coexistence of contrasting interests and needs. Speaking about cultural diversity without taking into consideration the political and economic forces that underlie and influence it makes no sense.
Our City is the portrait of a metropolis that belongs to everyone, a ‘city of foreigners’ that affirms itself more loudly here than elsewhere. Brussels is a multifaceted mirage. In its ambiguous profile, expats and immigrants, commuters and asylum-seekers, all see the promise of a private happiness. We often say that Brussels does not have a strong identity like Paris or London. That’s because Brussels is alive, because it still breathes, because it is ‘in the making’.
Our City is a film about a city under construction. On its horizon you can see the profile of the cranes and the skeletons of new towers. But what is the human construction that we are putting into place?
Maria Tarantino, April 2015Back to top
Maria Tarantino (b. 1972, Milan) graduated in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh and then went on to do research at KU Leuven, the University of Wuppertal, and Ca’ Foscari in Venice. Her interests centre on phenomenology, a contemporary branch of philosophy that focuses on the structure of the human being and its understanding of the world. After 10 years of academic studies, she decided to explore the world of information and communication. Following an internship at Le Monde Diplomatique in Paris in 2011, she began working as a freelance journalist for Italian and Belgian publications as well as radio and television programmes, writing on politics, culture, cinema, and food (Radio Rai 1, Pure FM, La Premiere, De Morgen , Deng , Et Cetera , Il Manifesto , Diario della Settimana , Slow Food ). In 2005 and 2006 Tarantino presented, on Canvas (television), an innovative series of 25 documentaries called De Wereld Van Tarantino . She also made the odd incursion in the area of contemporary art, translating her journalistic work on a different register: een auto die democratie heet… , 2006 (a car called democracy) (audio installation), SAP ( Sociaal Autonoom Produkt , 2008), GMOs ( Generously Modified Organisms , 2009), a series of free workshops on fermentation, City One Minutes , Chartres , 2012 (24 videos about the city of Chartres). In 2009, Tarantino moved into filmmaking and directed Inside Out , an analysis of power relations inside an Italian prison where a group of inmates creates a theatre performance. The film was shown at the London Independent Film Festival, subsequently touring prisons in Belgium and Italy, and a television version was broadcast on BBC World. The following year, Tarantino travelled to Burundi to make Kubita , a self-funded and self-shot film about torture in Burundi’s prisons. Kubita was presented at the festivals in Docville, Parnu, Liège, and Bujumbura, and broadcast on TV5. In the same year, she set up the production house WILDUNDOMESTICATED in Brussels, which produced a medium-length film about the Brussels opera house and a series of short films about Chartres, before delving into the lengthy venture of Our City .Back to top