The Great Wall
MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (MOMA) DOCUMENTARY FORTNIGHT
"Extraordinary study of borders, literal and virtual, across contemporary Europe." – The Irish Times
"Potent and searing." - Sight & Sound
"As the migrant crisis in Europe intensifies, this pertinent documentary investigates the barriers to entry erected by E.U. member states: concrete, wire, and electronic surveillance." - Museum of Modern Art
The Great Wall is a visually hypnotic and disturbing study of borders and immigration in a contemporary Europe increasingly preoccupied with its own fortification.
In a simple but highly suggestive manoeuvre, we hear Kafka's short story, "The Building of the Great Wall of China" being read over searing images of concrete walls, maps, barbed wire and armed guards, which chart the ominous security culture that aims to protect EU citizens from the perceived threat of mass immigration. These synchronized juxtapositions comprise a visual essay that reflects on concepts of power and exclusion, and map out some of the darkest undertones in the European project.
"The Great Wall has been completed at its most southerly point." -- so begins Kafka’s short story, and so, at Europe’s heavily militarized southeastern frontier, begins this film. In the shadow of its own narratives of freedom, Europe has been building its own great wall. Like the existing wall along much of the US-Mexico border, Europe's wall is piecemeal in construction, diverse in form, and dubious in utility.
As it hovers across bleak fortified landscapes, The Great Wall occasionally lingers with nearby immigrants. Whether burning scavenged two-by-fours for cooking fuel, or idling in abandoned lots just beyond the fence of golf courses, their lives seemed framed by the borders that surround them. As the film moves inward toward seats of power, it holds the European project up to a dazzling cinematic light, refracted through Kafka’s enigmatic text.
As a Jew living in early twentieth century Central Europe, and a critic of authoritarianism in a declining empire, Kafka developed a strong affinity for allegory. His "The Building of the Great Wall of China" continues to echo across the ages, and The Great Wall expresses its relevance to the contemporary situation. With nationalism, isolationism, and authoritarianism on the rise, the ominous tones of The Great Wall recall dark episodes of the past, and suggest that physical walls are not likely to build real legitimacy for power. And as in Kafka, the film suggests that the walls being built to keep out the other may be blocking us from our own freedom.
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