A bus stop, a square, a few blocks on a suburban road. Zohra Hamadi, metal rods down her spine, gets off the bus. She walks upright, finally able to breathe easily. But Europe only grants her a few days of respite. Zohra Hamadi decides to reach out to the future. EUROPE – a story of forced fiction.
The bus stop “Europe” is located on an arterial road in a small suburb in the French town of Chatellerault. A few blocks, a brasserie, a kebab shop and a bus that shuttles between the hospital and the forest, a recreation area outside the city. This is where Zohra Hamadi, 32, lives, her summer beginning with the end of a long history of illness. For the first time in her life, Zohra can walk upright, virtually pain-free – she can lead a completely normal life from now on, says the doctor to whom she owes her physical freedom. A completely normal life: Zohra’s flat is in one of the blocks, family and friends all live close by, she has found work at an NGO that deals in second-hand clothes. If only it weren’t for her husband Hocine, waiting in Algeria to finally get a family reunification visa and board the next plane to Zohra.
It’s summer, the end of July, and all of France is preparing for the holidays on both sides of the Mediterranean. Zohra just needs to renew her residence permit, then she too will leave to spend at least a few weeks with Hocine in the Algerian mountains. But the extension doesn’t come: With the end of her treatment, Zohra loses her right of residence in France. She becomes – for her social environment as well as for the cinema audience – a protagonist forced into invisibility, silenced. It is only through the eyes and reactions of others that one senses Zohra’s struggle to secure a life of long desired normality: how she doesn’t wish to show any weakness, entangles herself in lies, how her world crumbles. Zohra loses her job and her flat. Family and friends leave, she stays back alone in an empty world.
This empty world becomes a stage for Zohra, equipped with a handful of keys to the flats of others. She reclaims visibility by inventing her future, and not just one, but several, which she plays out in variations. Her fictions, sometimes subtle, sometimes pretentiously bourgeois, are not quite grounded in facts and draw us into a charade of parallel unfolding realities. She lives with Hocine, or she doesn’t, she has a family, perhaps, a new job, a residence permit.
By reclaiming fictional visibility, Zohra’s struggle for her space in Europe begins, even if she has to change scenarios more and more often. This lends her a transparent, ghostly quality – the refugee becomes a fugitive eluding the systematic grip of the state authorities.