Drifting between the academic and the abstract, Maria Iorio and Raphaël Cuomo's film winds up feeling more like a museum exhibit
As the politics of the Global North have shifted rightward in the last decade and a half, an inevitable consequence of that has been a further hardening of European hearts towards migrants and refugees, a moral calamity that has only been made worse by the recent intensification of the Migrant Crisis. Into this evocative and important milieu steps the sadly underwhelming Chronicles of That Time, a thematically ambitious but stylistically tedious and emotionally empty documentary looking – very obliquely – at the treatment of refugees in Sicily over the past 15 years.
Directed by Italian artists Maria Iorio and Raphaël Cuomo, Chronicles does feel more like an exhibit than a film – a feeling explained by the fact that the footage here is actually discarded footage from the pair’s previous video installations, repurposed around the story of Abdelhamid, a migrant from Tunisia who does seasonal work in Sicilian hotels.
We barely actually see Abdelhamid, though, Iorio and Cuomo instead mostly telling their story through still frames and static long takes of minimal activity on the local docks. The result is a film it’s impossible to feel close to, not to mention one that manages to feel too long even whilst running at a mere 76 minutes; there are only so many softly narrated bits of grainy 2006 video camera footage of wet vehicles that one can reasonably stand.
Whilst it is uninvolving on an emotional level, the fascination that Chronicles has with classical Roman art does lend it some crucial academic interest, the filmmakers looking back at a time when the Mediterranean connected the world rather than dividing it, Italy and North Africa co-existing as separate but connected entities, each one strengthening the other. It’s a historically interesting point that I haven’t really seen brought up in documentaries of this ilk before, one that re-captures the attention, if only briefly.
Ultimately, though, the human stakes here are too readily ignored by the filmmakers in favour of more abstract points that would better belong either in art installations or as part of a lengthier, more academically rigorous documentary. At one point, the overbearing narration asks an offscreen participant: “What impressions have these images left you with?” In the case of Chronicles of That Time, the answer is “none that will last.”
Chronicles of That Time is released on True Story from 13 January.Where to watch