By Madeleine Wall
The only static aspect of Hind Meddeb’s documentary Paris Stalingrad is the area from which the film takes its name. Beginning with this eponymous space, Meddeb expands to the treatment of the refugees who must stay there, focusing as much on the newcomers as the Parisians and their varying levels of aid. The question of refugees isn’t one that hasn’t been well documented of late in cinema, but Meddeb’s project stands out for its intimacy. Each refugee she speaks to comes from a different part of the world and out of a different conflict, each carrying a whole world with them as they fled for their lives. Meddeb in turn does not hide anonymously behind a camera, serving as the film’s narrator and foregrounding her own willingness to help as well. There’s a mutual respect between director and subject which structures the film, most notably in Meddeb’s interactions with a young man named Souleymane, who invites her to visit the mountains of Darfur. In turn, Meddeb braids a poem of Souleymane’s throughout the voiceover narration. Meddeb is the narrator, and her authorial voice is never hidden, but her willingness to let others speak on par with her is what sets this documentary apart.
Meddeb also turns her attention to the unwillingness of the French government to make any significant effort to change policy or reality on the ground. Instead of being seen upon arrival, refugees are told to wait in line for days, in what plays as a Kafkaesque pursuit of legality. Their shelters are constantly razed by the police, and they’re sent off on buses all over the city, prolonging their stasis indefinitely. There are a few French citizens, Meddeb included, who do what they can to help, but their actions feel increasingly futile. The condition of the refugee is one of constant movement, and though the film ends, their transient status doesn’t; Meddeb offers here a glimpse, not a statement.