The “Last Resort” of an Eastern European “Refugee by Mistake”: On Diasporic Cinema
In dealing with the ever-escalating drama of migration and estrangement of ethnic minorities and refugees seeking asylum in the countries of the West, Jacques Derrida’s writings of the late 1990s have provided a forceful critical guidance into the ethics and politics of hospitality, constituting, as they do, both a philosophical response as well as a political intervention.(The article is an expanded version of a paper given at the CongressCATH 2002 (AHRB Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory, and History, University of Leeds) Translating Class, Altering Hospitality, 21-23 June, Leeds Town Hall. Addressing the dual structures of social estrangement in terms of social class and the status of the stranger/immigrant/ refugee, the multidisciplinary contributions to the congress were stimulated by Jacques Derrida’s rethinking of the ethics and politics of hospitality, conveyed to the Anglophone reader by translation of his Paris 1996 seminars: Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2000), and of his paper in Istanbul 1997: Jacques Derrida, “Hostipitality,” trans. Barry Stocker with Forbes Morlock, Angelaki: Journal of Theoretical Humanities 5.3 (2000): 3-18; as well as Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, trans. Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes, with a preface by Simon Critchley and Richard Kearney (London and New York: Routledge, 2001).)
I would like to use Derrida’s manifold unpacking of hospitality performed in the realm of the verbal, of philosophical and literary texts, for the domain of the visual, and in this particular case, for that of “cinema with an accent,” to use a term proposed by Hamid Naficy (1999).(Hamid Naficy, Making Films with an Accent: Exilic and Diasporic Cinema (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999); Hamid Naficy, “Between rocks and hard places: the interstitial mode of production in exilic cinema,” in H. Naficy, ed., Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media, and the Politics of Place (New York and London: Routledge, 1999), 125-47.)
I want to argue that the cinema, produced by diasporic directors and addressing the issues of migration, border-crossing, exclusion and subalterity from the self-reflexive position of participant observers, helps to expand Derrida’s inquiry into the ontology of hospitality, laying bare the entanglement of its rules with the regimes of representation.
Recent years have brought an ever-increasing number of important films confronting openly the unendurable drama of political refugees, who, fleeingwar, persecution, displacement, and hunger, seek asylum in western countries, only to encounter a greater and greater tightening of immigration control, as well as notorious misunderstandings and misrepresentations, by western public opinion and media, of their multiple motivations and their potential roles in host societies.
The list of those films includes Michael Winterbottom’s In This World (UK, 2002), a quasi-documentary epic of a hellish journey of two teenage Afghan boys, who set out from Pakistan, via Iran, Turkey, Italy, France to London, placing their lives in the hands of refugee smugglers, or, Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things (BBC Films, UK, 2002), the story of a highly-skilled Nigerian doctor and a Turkish woman, both working without a permit in a London hotel.
This article focuses on a film that took a notably different approach to the drama of immigration and misrepresentation.
Made by the Polish-born and British-educated director Pawel Pawlikowski, Last Resort (BBC, 2000) deals with a Russian woman-artist, Tanya, who, accompanied by her 10-year old son Artyom comes to Britain to unite with her British fiancé, and ends up as a “refugee by mistake” in a detention camp.
Unlike those two other films, both made by British directors engaging with the drama of the Other, and both putting forth the cases of genuine asylum seekers, i.e. those who, according to the principles of the Geneva convention, escape political oppression and abuse in their home countries, the Last Resort presents an ostensibly indefensible case of the much maligned “bogus asylum seeker” – a person motivated by purely individual and emotional, rather than by socio-political needs, who moreover, is female, professional, and comes from post-Soviet-oppression-Russia.
Not making any attempt to justify any legality or otherwise of crossing the border to the West by a non-western female visitor from Eastern Europe, i.e. not providing the story of suffering in her own country, the film goes, fearlessly and subversively, beyond the political interventionist agenda of international refugee organisations.
It inquires instead, on a philosophical level, into the epistemic violence of human rights at the border, into the Derridean issue of the laws of hospitality.
Importantly, Pawlikowski himself came to Britain with his mother as a teenager, studied at Edinburgh College of Art and National Film School, and made his name as the author of prize-winning BBC documentaries on diverse issues of politics and culture of Eastern Europe.
His provocative Serbian Epic (1992) questioned the established truths about the region, causing a parliamentary debate.
The Last Resort, released in 2001, constitutes Pawlikowski’s second feature film. In the mode characteristic for the interstitial, independent, or “minor” cinema it was made on a documentary budget and was distributed in the limited circuit of art houses and film clubs, while winning a plethora of awards, both in Britain and abroad.(The Last Resort won, among others, the Michael Powell award for the best British feature film at Edinburgh (2000), the international critics prize at the London Film Festival (2001), BAFTA award for the Best British Newcomer (2001), and recently, the 2002 award of the Rheinland-Pfalzische Heimat in Europa. For Pawel Pawlikowski’s filmography, see his PDF website: http://www.pfd.co.uk/scripts/get.py/filmandtv/?ftdirectors%20Pawel%20. The ambiguity of the conferring of the status of the “newcomer” onto the British-trained (Edinburgh and Oxford) and BBC-affiliated director, could be perhaps understood as his newcoming to feature films-genre from that of documentaries, mostly on Eastern Europe.)
I propose thus to extend Derrida’s reflections on international human rights beyond the tragedy of refugees fleeing dictatorship, subjugation, and deprivation, and apply it also to an “ordinary” world citizen, to an “ordinary” visitor to the West coming from outside its imaginary boundaries – and, as it happens, to an unmistakably middle-class professional.
Tanya arrives at the threshold of the First World in search of love. But this kind of rationale is not sufficient in the case of the non-western female citizen.
Tanya’s difference – in comparison to any other western woman travelling from far away to meet her partner – is constituted by the fact that she comes from outside the West, and moreover from Russia, the country framed by the modernity and by the post-1945 regimes of truth as the Other of the civilised West.
Moreover, she does not fit at all any of the western pre-conceived images of the Eastern European subject: neither that of an Eastern European low-class underprivileged/ illiterate, nor that of the dissident intellectual, predominantly masculine.
However, in order to cross the border and enter the world, in pursuit of her missing partner, she has no choice but to enter one of the roles cut out for her, to enter simultaneously the role of (bogus) asylum seeker, and be subsequently exposed to the ensuing process of her sexualisation in the detention camp.
In other words, in order to receive hospitality, she has to surrender to its laws, to its narrative regimes, to its epistemic violence.
The Last Resort, as well as its reception by British critics, when seen against the Derridean frame, raises thus some further questions that could be asked of hospitality, namely the issue of the imbrication of its laws with regimes of representation.
Pawlikowski’s film could indeed be viewed as a stirring footnote to Derrida’s lectures.
By exploring to the end the dialogic power of the interstices between documentary, alternative, and narrative modes of film production, the film also makes an incisive entry into the battlefield of representation, exposing the regimes of “worlding”(Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Can the subaltern speak?”, in Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (eds.) Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader (Longman, 1994), 66-111.) and the gendering of the female visitor/immigrant from Eastern Europe in post-1989 Britain.
The text comprises four parts. The first one looks at some of the aporias of hospitality, which, as Derrida recurrently underlines, “always in some ways does the opposite of what it pretends to do and immobilises itself on the threshold of itself.”(Immanuel Kant, “Dritter Definitvartikel zum ewigen Frieden,” in Schriften zur Anthropologie, Geschichtsphilosophie, Politik and Pädagogik (Frankfurt am Main, Insel Verlag, 1964), 213-217.)
The second part, screening the Last Resort through the Derridean grid, discusses the coexistence of the laws of hospitality with the regimes of representation, focusing on the opening scene of the border interrogation.
The third part addresses the changing formulas of inclusion/exclusion, of classification and gendering the female from Eastern Europe and the shift from the image of the white reproducer of the Cold-warriors camp to the prostitute in post-1945 western visual culture.
The final one examines the interventionist potential of the Last Resort, pondering on the strategies and efficacy of its political immediacy, and on the ways in which the film may contribute to a re-alignment of the field of representation, altering the hospitality/ representation regimes.
Derrida re-reads Kant’s essay “The third definitive article of a perpetual peace,”(Derrida, “Hostipitality,” 3-4.) which asserts that hospitality does not belong to the space of philanthropy, but to the space of right, that is, the rights to hospitality owed to the stranger by the host, and reciprocally, the obligation on the part of the guest to obey the conditions determined by the host.
Derrida points to the proximity of the term to its opposite: “hostility,” to the “troubling analogy” between the two, the analogy stemming from the multiple meaning of the Latin word hostis, signifying both the host/ guest (in French hôte/ hôte), as well as the enemy/undesirable guest.(The morphem ‘t’, instead of ‘ti’ appears in Derrida, Of Hospitality, 45.)
Hospitality thus “becomes the threshold,” where inclusion is contingent on, and threatened by, exclusion.
In other words, invitation is tainted by confrontation. This strange crossing, the double bind of hospitality, is referred to by Derrida’s neologism: “hostpitality,” or “hostipitality,” in which the reinstatement of the lost morpheme “t(i)” makes it more analogous to “hostility,” and reminds one of the ambiguity of the whole concept.(Ibid. 21-29.)
Deconstructing the bifurcation of hospitality further, Derrida reveals its other contradictions, such as the limitation of the rights of the stranger/guest by the host’s authority in his own home, by the laws of the household (including language), which, established by the host, are to be learned and obeyed by the guest.
In this way the rights to hospitality are conditioned and limited by the “pacts” of reciprocal commitment of the host and the guest, which maintains the host’s authority/identity/mastery over the guest, and thus prevents the hypothetical reversal of the roles between the host and the guest (as implied by the identical terms given to both of them in Latin and French).
Derrida proposes thus a distinction between, on the one hand, the Kantian “conditional hospitality circumscribed by law and duty,” delimited by “pacts,” and, on the other hand, an absolute, hyperbolical, the “unconditional hospitality that dispenses with law, duty, or even politics.”
The latter, when offered unreservedly to “the absolute, unknown, anonymous other,” allows for the reversal of the roles between the host and the guest.(Stuart Hall, “The work of representation.” in Stuart Hall (ed.) Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (London: Sage/The Open University, 1997), 13-74.)
I would argue that it is at this point, when making apparent the distinction between conditional and unconditional hospitality, between knowing and un-knowing, representing and non-representing, where the analogy between the laws of conditional hospitality, or hos(ti)pitality, and the regimes of representation comes to the fore.
The pacts of hos(ti)pitality, the laws of classifying, of translating the un-determined identity of the newcomer/ foreigner, into the pre-determined categories of either legitimate guest or illegitimate newcomer/ potential enemy, are undetachable from the patterns of representation, the production of meaning through the pre-existing sets of signs.(Derrida, “Hostipitality,” 5, 14, note 11.)
Thus, the very act, or even just the potentiality of crossing the border defining national, ethnic, class, or gender identity, the very claim to the rights of hospitality, automatically turns on the lights and tribes of representation, and simplifies and objectifies the subjectivity of the traverser, who, no matter what s/he intends, is now expected and doomed to perform one of the prescribed roles, specified in her hos(ti)pitality contract.
The asymmetrical relationship between the host and the guest reproduces that of the subject to the object of representation.
The (p)acts of hospitality and representation are mutual, and thus the part allocated to and purporting to receive or to represent the other, implicates above all the ipseity of the host, or the self-representation of the narrator.
It is precisely the asymmetry of those pacts of hospitality and acts of representation, both maintaining the asymmetry of power relations, which is explored in the Last Resort.
The dichotomy between the unconditional and conditional hospitality resembles another distinction which Derrida makes between the hospitality of invitation and that of visitation.(Immanuel Kant, “Third Definitive Article of a Perpetual Peace,” in Hans Reiss (ed.) trans. H.B. Nisbet, Kant’s Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 106.)
The latter, allowing the stranger to pass through, but denying her the rights of residence, departs from the Kantian formulation of the Besuchsrecht [right to visit], for all men are entitled to present Once you’ve taken care of all your shopping, look for the house of the kid you saved. Talk to his mother and she’ll ask you if you want a reward. Say no and she’ll give you a Blue Talisman, which raises your defense by 10%. Then go try to enter the castle. Karyl themselves in the society of others by virtue of their right to communal possession of the earth’s surface.(The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), vol. XIII 729-730.)
Significantly for the polyvalent title of Pawlikowski’s film, playing with multiple meanings of the term “resort” (either an “action of resolving a difficult situation,” or a “place to which persons repair” for recreation(Kant, “Third Definitive Article of a Perpetual Peace,” 106.)), the English translator of Kant worded the Besuchsrecht, the right to visit the society of others owned by the world citizen as a right of resort, as opposed to the right of guest which requires a special friendly agreement.(Derrida, Of Hospitality, 15.)
Tanya, the foreigner at the border in the Last Resort, is not forced to emigration either by persecution or economic hardship, but arrives in Britain endowed in her “Kantian” belief in the natural right to/ of hospitality, the universal principle of the right of resort. What she appears unaware of are the constraints and changeability of the “hospitality pact” imposed on her in exchange, the fact that her rights to the earth’s surface cannot be disentangled from her duty to perform the specific and limited roles prescribed for the Eastern European female crossing the threshold of the First World.
In other words, she does not know that her right of resort is coterminus with the pre-existing threads within the space of representation.
The opening shots of the film, when Tanya is being questioned by an immigration officer at Stansted about the reasons of her arrival in Britain and about her identity, illustrate both verbally and visually some of the passages from Derrida’s lectures.
She emerges from a long queue of foreigners in front of the officer’s pulpit, smiling and confident both in anticipation of reuniting with her British fiancé and of her right of resort, answering the ritualised questions in her school textbook English.
The scene – uncannily familiar for the spectator who has experienced herself or himself, this kind of interrogation at the British border – unsettles at the outset the identification with the spectator and the cinematic subject.
The effect of suture, the mainstay of the narrative-cinema, so prominent at the opening of the film, is at the same time undermined by the displeasure of the shared experience, as well as by the quasi-documentary mode, suggested by the use of the hand-held camera and the visible effect of “documentary” footage.
Tanya’s explanation of the reason for her visit to England appears so inappropriate that the smug immigration officer cannot allocate her to any of the available categories of the foreigner from Eastern Europe, who could be granted the right to cross the British border.
Tanya does not have enough money to be classified as a “tourist visitor,” neither does she have, as we can presume, a fiancé visa which would allow her entrance on the basis of the criterion of “family reunion.”
Worse, her partner has not arrived at Stansted to welcome her and to verify her claim to a family liaison.
Moreover, the contents of her luggage, inspected with a voyeuristic interest by the officer, and in particular the framed photographs and a piece of her artwork, are taken as evidence of an intention to settle in Britain and perhaps, as expressed by the immigration officer, to “solicit work without permit.”
The use of the term “solicit” and its direct connotations with prostitution makes the first verbal allusion to the contents of Tanya’s hospitality pact, to the representational clichés imposed on the Eastern European female in the West.
However, in spite of her fiancé’s unexplained desertion and the prospect of returning to Russia on the first plane, Tanya is not ready to abandon her love-story scenario.
Betrayed, assaulted, and disenfranchised, but desperately locked in her dream, she is determined to find her missing partner.
On a momentary impulse, Tanya decides thus to enter the ultimate role ascribable to her at the border, that of the masculinised subject position of “asylum seeker,” still rooted in the Cold War representational order, to which I will return below.
The spectator does not know exactly what excuse she gives to the immigration officer, since s/he watches the scene of their dialogue through the eyes of her son, who, stuck to the glass panel separating him from her mother, overhears only scraps of the conversation, with a distinguishable phrase “my life is very dangerous” uttered by Tanya, retorted by a perfectly audible expression of disbelief on the part of the officer.
When Artyom follows with horror the ensuing procedure of taking Tanya’s identificatory photographs , representing her in a mode associated with lawbreakers, the viewer – still seamlessly sutured to Artyom’s viewpoint – knows that neither is she the “real,” nor a “bogus” asylum seeker.
What is bogus here are the laws of hos(ti)pitality coexistential with the patriarchal regimes of representation, violating the subjectivity of the guest and the object of representation.
The scene of taking Tanya’s police photographs at the border – as the prerequisite of crossing that border – makes clear in visual terms that submission to the laws of hos(ti)pitality means submission to the regimes of representation; in other words, that the question of hospitality is the question of representation.
The opening scene at the airport problematizes further the issue of language as both one of the laws of hospitality, as well as an ideological terrain of representation.
The film emphasizes the estrangement of Tanya and Artyom who talk to each other in Russian and communicate with others in their inept English.
Waiting for Mark’s appearance at the airport, Artyom reads aloud from his English phrase-book, “In Britain friendly people start their conversation by talkingabout the weather,” and Tanya corrects his pronunciation.
The asymmetricality of the dialogue between the law-giving officer/host and Tanya/the stranger “inept at speaking the language,” reminds one again of the passage from Derrida’s reflection on Socrates declaring his foreignness to the language of the courts to the Athenian judges: “Among the serious problems we are dealing with here is that of the foreigner who, inept at speaking the language, always risks being without defence before the law of the country that welcomes or expels him … He has to ask for hospitality in a language … imposed on him by the master of the house, the host … that’s the first act of violence.”(On the Cold War visuality, see Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius, “Distinguishing white from white: Images of East Central European difference after the Fall of the Wall,” a paper presented at the conference The Contours Of Legitimacy In Central Europe, St. Antony’s College, Oxford, 24-26 May 2002, to be published in the proceedings.)
Having been driven in a police van to the detention camp at the British coast, Tanya finds out, belatedly, that she and her son cannot leave the place for the eighteen months it will take to process their case.
Both the title of the film, as well as its major location at the camp, represented as isolated from the free world by the barbed wire, closed railway station, patrol dogs, and surveillance cameras, pose the camp and its laws as the focal topic of the film.
Importantly, the panoptical gaze of the surveillance cameras, the desolate public housing tower bloc, and the permanent queue of the disempowered detainees to a single working telephone, are all the well-established signifiers of the Eastern European difference, petrified by the hegemonic discourse of the Cold War visuality.(Ian Sinclair, “The cruel seaside,” Sight and Sound 11 March (2001):16-18; Fiachra Gibbons, “Meet me in Margate,” The Guardian, 9 March 2001.)
Indeed, the camp has been described by one of the reviewers, somewhat inappropriately, as the “Kentish Gulag,” while many others point to the similarity between Tanya’s unfortunate exchange of a “crumbling tower-block in Moscow for an equally crumbling one” in Margate.(Goran Rystad, “Victims of oppression or ideological weapons? Aspects of US refugee policy in the post-war era,” in Goran Rystad (ed.) The Uprooted: Forced migration as an international problem in the post-war era (Lund: Lund University Press, 1990), 195-226. See also Danièle Joly, Haven or Hell? Asyum Policies and Refugees in Europe (London: Macmillan and St Martin’s Press in association with Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations University of Warwick, 1996), 10.)
The reversal of space and the Cold War references, posing the issue of Eastern European sameness and difference, its (sub)alterity within the body of Europe, has been amply picked up by the reviewers, and the imbrication of hospitality with representation of the Eastern European subjecthood in a western phallogocentric economy is closely underpinned by a Cold War type of discourse.
The explanation of the ways in which Tanya is received at the border is provided by the radical changes in the rules of hospitality/ representation applicable to the immigrants from the Other Europe.
In the earlier decades of the Cold War refugees from Eastern Europe were given a preferential treatment by the majority of western states and this policy was further legitimised by the category of “political opinion” in the Geneva Convention of 1951.(Daniel J. Leab, “The Iron Curtain (1948): Hollywood’s first Cold War Movie,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 8 (1988) 153-188. On the Cold War Hollywood cinema, see Nora Sayre,Running Time: Films of the Cold War (New York: Dial Press, 1982); Peter Biskind, Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties (London: Pluto, 1983); David Hall, “Celluloid borders: representing the Cold war on film,” in K. Murawska-Muthesius (ed.) Borders in Art: Revisiting Kunstgeographie (Warsaw: Institute of Art, 2000), 249-257.)
The laws of this quasi unconditional hospitality, however, were blatantly coexistent with the then current representational dynamics.
The prerequisite was the automatic allocation of the Eastern European immigrant to the one available category of the “political refugee” fleeing the communist regime.
I have, of course, no intention to deny that large numbers of Eastern European immigrants in the post-war period were indeed dissidents.
However, their arrival at the border, as well as the hospitality they received, served at the same time as the self-representation of the host, emphasising the moral, and absolute superiority of the Western model of democracy over its totalitarian version in the East.
The act of fleeing the Communist regime accompanied by the open arms reception in the West, the specific narrative of the Cold War hospitality, was framed and propagated in a large number of Hollywood films portraying the defecting scientists, the embassy clerks, and the high rank NKVD agents, seeking freedom in America or Canada.
One of the first was the widely distributed The Iron Curtain, by William A. Wellman (1948), whose script was drawn from “life,” from the headlines of 1945, and the much advertised case of the employee of the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa Igor Guzhenko, who turned over documents about the stealing of atomic secrets from the Allies and escaped to the West together with his wife and baby.(On the issue of gender and immigration, see Pamela Sharpe (ed.) Women, Gender and Labour Migration: Historical and Global Perspectives (New York and London: Routledge, 2001); Gregory A. Kelson, Debra L. DeLaet (eds) Gender and Immigration (Basingstoke: Macmillan 1999); Gina Buijs (ed.) Migrant Women: Crossing Boundaries and Changing Identities (Oxford: Berg, 1993).)
And yet, even if there was only one major role ascribed to all the Cold War immigrants at the point of crossing the border, it was a highly gendered one.
The Eastern European political refugee was identified, by and large, with a man.(Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (New York: The New Press, 2000).) He was represented either as an uncompromised resistance fighter, or a skilled professional, often an atomic expert, whose escape from behind the Iron Curtain would only have a benign effect on the host society, and on the “future of freedom” in the whole world, to use the CIA terminology of culture wars.(Two papers given by Polish contributors to the Translating Class/Altering Hospitality conference, Leeds, June 2002, explored the issue of Polish and Lithuanian artists grappling with anti-Semitism and homophobia (Tomasz Kitlilski, “Iconographies of abject: Xenophobia in Eastern Europe today,” Pawel Leszkowicz, “Towards a democratic public sphere: Homosexuality in the art and society of today’s Poland”).)
By contrast, an Eastern European woman (predominantly Russian) defecting into the west in Hollywood films, was defined within the western masculinist framework as being motivated first and foremost by personal sentiments rather than political conscience.
Films, such as Silk Stockings (Rouben Mamoulian, MGM, 1957), with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, the musical remake of the 1930s Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch, MGM, 1939), narrate the process of the transformation re-gendering of apparently de-gendered Eastern European women, who have been employed in non-feminine professions as commissars, tram-drivers (King Vidor, Comrade X, MGM, 1940), and pilots (Howard Hughes, Jet Pilot, RKO, 1957), and were held to be fully indoctrinated by totalitarian ideology.
Once the suppressed voice of their femininity had been awakened by the assiduous male charmer from the West, and further rekindled by western luxury commodities, the masculinised women from Eastern Europe were shown as happy to transform into the real, the ‘womanly women” of the West, exchanging willingly their emancipated status into the role of the western lover and dependent wife.
The Hollywood image of the Eastern European woman immigrant exchanges her political interpellation for the prison of her gender.
When Tanya comes to Britain, she casts herself, unknowingly, in the old Hollywood-invented image of the Eastern European bride, motivated by love and happy to be rescued from her post-Soviet reality.
This script, however, is no longer valid at the border. The end of the Cold War altered radically the former pact of hospitality applicable to Eastern European newcomers, stripping it from its blunt ideological priorities, and adopting the “standard” policy of highly restricted admittance, which positions the issue of economic self-sufficiency in the centre of border interrogation, no different from that offered to any non-refugee foreigner from non-western countries.
Simultaneously, it changed the dominant scopic regimes in the perception of the Eastern European foreigner from that of the invited ally to an unwanted parasite, who apart from posing a burden to the national welfare of the host, is tarnished with a reputation of bigotry, of persecuting ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities in their own countries.(Spivak, “Can the subaltern speak?” The application of post-colonial theory to East European studies was recommended by Anikó Imre, “White man, white mask: Mephisto meets Venus,” Screen 40.4 (1999): 405-422 and was also explored in my paper “Strategic existentialism of the imaginary Slaka,” given at the 28th AAH Annual Conference Culture, Capital, Colony, University of Liverpool, 2002, forthcoming in Third Text, 2004.)
Conversely, the role of the racially homogenous reproducer, formerly allocated to the Eastern European woman, useful for the task of multiplying the population of white Cold Warriors, has been displaced by that of the prostitute, potentially threatening the moral fibre of the hosting society.
The current media image of the Eastern European woman immigrant, often shown as forced into prostitution by her own compatriots, is indistinguishable from any other victim of the globalised sex-trade coming from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
I do not imply here that the representation regimes applicable to the Eastern European woman immigrant should, for the virtue of the shared “Europeanness” and skin colour, be different from those associated with the Third World woman.
What I do contest is, to use Spivak’ s terminology, the mechanism of “worlding,” of the “epistemic violence” targeted at a woman from a different world, whether classified as Third or Second.(Films which explore the issue of the social degradation and alienation of the Eastern European immigrant, were directed well during the Cold war years by East European émigrés themselves, including Roman Polalski’s Le Locataire/ Tenant (Paramount, France, 1976) and Jerzy Skolimowski’s Moonlighting (Miracle, UK, 1982), and were almost exclusively concerned with the male protagonists.)
In other words, I am concerned with the pre-existing narratives of hos(ti)pitality/representation, which, in analogy to the former political dissident stereotyping, tend to impose the homogenised identity of the prostitute on any economically not self-sufficient female immigrant from another World.
Although the issue of alienation and social degradation of the post-Cold War Eastern European woman has not constituted itself as a distinctive topic in western cinema,(Ann-Sofi Sidén, Warte Mal! Prostitution after the Velvet Revolution, exh. cat. London, Hayward Gallery, 2002 (London: Hayward Gallery Publishing, 2002).) it has become familiar through the media and web-discourses, and, in a somewhat similar vein, it has even been appropriated recently by contemporary interventionist cinema, such as Lilya 4-Ever by Lukas Moodysson (Sweden, 2002), presenting the familiar narrative of a Moscow girl lured into modelling career in the West and sold into prostitution in Sweden.
Another version of this appropriation was a media installation by a Swedish woman artist, Ann-Sofi Sidén, Warte mal! Prostitution after the Velvet Revolution, shown very recently at the Hayward Gallery.(David Wood, “Interview with Pawel Pawlikowski,” http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2001/03/05/pawlikowski_last_resort_interview.shtml))
In the Last Resort, the imminent process of Tanya’s representation/ sexualisation follows two ready-made schemes, both violent and reparative.
In order to escape the hostile environment of her last resort, she has to adapt the routes prescribed for the post-1989 Eastern European female immigrant in the West.
She can either be coerced into an internet prostitution, or, respond to the advances of the amusement arcade manager, Alfie.
The latter offers what appears as almost unconditional hospitality. He looks after Tanya’s son Artyom, declares love, and does his utmost to domesticate the space of her dreary apartment in the refugee tower block, redecorating and completing it with the tokens of domesticity, such as a TV set and a sofa, without asking for anything in exchange.
And yet, Tanya does not enter any of those common-knowledge narratives about her, imposed by the regimes of representation.
Neither is she corrupted by the cyberpimp, nor does she fall into Alfie’s arms, using the help of the latter to escape her “designated holding area,” and to return with her son to Russia.
She tends to not give anything away, and the viewer is constantly deceived by disruptions in the narrative logic. Her own signifying space is situated non-diegetically outside the narration, and her subjectivity resists the available languages of translation.
Pawel Pawlikowski’s film can be seen as a significant entrance onto the battlefield of representation, the patterns of “worlding” the Eastern European woman at the border of the West, the pronouncement which he made from a precarious positionality of the participant observer, suspended between many sets of fixed identities, both seen and seeing, translated and translating, (un)invited and (un)inviting, travelling between self and other.
His status, that of the male film-director, the masculine camera-eye, making a female-character in his own gaze, is decentred by the autobiographical recollections, pronounced clearly in interviews:(Sinclair, 17.) his Eastern European diasporic subjectivity shared with his female protagonist, displacing, however, his Polishness with Russianness, and furthermore, his retrospectival identification with her son, playing the role of the lacking maternal phallus.
Moreover, the cinematic fiction, the narrative patterns of representation, the story ofthe fallen or the rescued woman, are constantly disrupted and questioned by the juxtaposition of narrative and documentary modes of representation.
It is the interstitial mode in which the film is made, improvised in the process of its production, and shot with the hand-held camera, with the “fabulating” features and cinematic gloss reduced to the bare minimum, which undermines the patterns of its narrative, its story that “would fit on a postcard.”(Tom Fogg, “Pawel Pawlikowsky” (sic), Netribution, http://www.nebtribution.co.ul/features/interviews/2001/pawel_pawlikowski?1.html)
The boundaries between fiction and reality are deliberately erased; the documentary report and a cinematic dream, bad and good, invade and haunt each other: what looks the most real has been staged, and what has not been made up looks as if it is constructed.
The Kafkaesque aura of the detention camp under the constant surveillance has been declared “a figment of [the director’s] imagination,”(Ibid.) while the role of the cybernetic pimp is performed by Lindsay Honey, the real British porno-king.
Pawlikowski, tracing his formative experience to Czech New Wave, new realism, as well as early Godard, explains: “well cast to the point of almost being documentary, that’s what I love… for me film-making is not just technical storytelling, it’s not load of shots that fit into a puzzle that then becomes a story.”(Ibid.)
At the same time, he distances himself from the label of the documentary film-maker: “What I did not want to make was one of those British issue-based ‘gritty films’ about life on the margins, the sort of films which are usually peopled with sociologically average characters or types who generally behave in a way are expected to behave. What always interested me in films (as in life) were people who defied the norm, whose personalities defied their environment.”(Pawel Pawlikowski, “Director Statement,” Rottentomatoes: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/LastResort-1105075/about.php?rtp=1)
Much has been said in the reviews about the interventionist agenda of the film, about emigration and displacement, about the “Ken Loach/Mike Leigh farce of airport ceremonies,” about detention and imprisonment, the “larger effects of ‘Fortress Europe,'” and finally about the image of Margate, where the film has been shot, “the last resort which becomes the first asylum,” the dumping ground for the uninvited, “where large groups of sad, unshaven men, Kurds and Afghans, wander aimlessly all day observed by CCTV cameras.”
As Pawlikowski’s film makes clear, the image of the excluded other is undetachable from the repressed memory of the unwanted self; representation is underlined by self-representation.
The grimy picture of Margate, made by “another bloody foreigner with an unpronounceable name,” was so painful that some of the citizens called for the resignation of the town’s tourism chief for allowing this “derogatory film” to be shot.(Gibbons.)
Significantly, for the “altering hospitality/ altering representation” scenarios, what has been marginalized in the reviews is Tanya’s identity of a woman artist, an illustrator of children’s books.
She declares that when interrogated at the border, the visual proof of which is a radiantly blue picture of a boat, carried with her as a kind of an attribute wherever she goes.
The immigration officer, Alfie, and some of the reviewers agree that the picture is nice; Alfie goes as far as to frame it in his efforts to decorate the apartment.
But, precisely, her professional status does not belong to the representational regimes, cannot define her, and was bound to get lost in the translation of her subjectivity at the border.
Although an educated professional, Tanya is seen by reviewers predominantly as the potential victim of the globalised sex-trade (on the “documentary” level), or, as a passive casualty of an unhappy love to-be-rescued-by-a-good-guy (on the “narrative” level), and accordingly, reduced by them to a naïve romantic, with a doll-like face.
In the outline of the representation regimes/hos(ti)pitality pacts applicable to the “worlded” female immigrant, her redemption cannot transcend the framework of the pre-given gender roles.
Her “class” is lost in translation, and the hospitality pacts cannot be altered; both are bound by the phallogocentric imagination.
The reviewers, who like the viewers, try their best to identify the clue, the master-line on which the film hangs, are equally coerced by its boundaries.
If Pawlikowski’s cinematic style avoids the Hollywood close-ups of her face, this lack is being made up for by the reviewers, devoting “voyeuristic” paragraphs to descriptions of Tanya’s “doll-like, kabuki presence; high, thin eyebrows, always arched, astonished. Slavic melancholy. … A china-white face and blood-red lips that are emphasised, from time to time, by scarlet collar of her jacket…. The long hair is girlish, held in place by a pink butterfly grip.”(Ibid., 17.)
The purely perfunctory exclamation about the “fabulous ark” uttered by Ian Sinclair in the Sight and Sound,(Ibid., 17.) counts on the same level as the “gorgeous cheeks,” identified as her main asset by the cyberpimp.
The film does not purport to offer an alternative script of hospitality, stopping on the level of critique of the representational regimes applied to immigrants at the border.
And it did its part, apparently, in decentring and challenging them. A New Statesman reviewer claims that “for most people in Britain – myself included, until I saw Pawlikowski’s film – asylum-seekers are not much more than a nuisance; and it has become easy to malign them as jockeys of the undercarriage, Eurostar Houdinis, squeegee highwaymen and Underground madonnas. So it comes as something of a shock to be reminded that the Heathrow Hopefuls [Stansted! KMM], for whom the mantra ‘political asylum’ has taken on the meaning of ‘holy sanctuary,’ are also people, with ordinary needs and human aspirations, and that they have a pretty miserable time of it in soulless detention centres like the one in Last Resort. “(Philip Kerr, “Heathrow hopefuls,” New Statesman and Society 2 April (2001): 44.)
The Derridean title of the film acts as an anchorage, relying and problematising at the same time its polyvalent messages.
In result of Tanya’s last resort solution she finds herself sorted out, and confined for the period of examining her case, in the dead-end seaside resort, turned into the refugee detention area, an ironic reference both to the Kantian right of resort, and to the idea of the “Cities of Refuge” supported by Derrida.(Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness.)
Accidentally, the same term “last resort” was chosen as the title of a brochure scrutinising migration policies in Britain, published by the National Council for Civil Liberties, and contesting in particular the Home Office claim that its policy is “to use detention as the last resort.”(Conor Foley and Sue Shutter, The Last Resort: Violations of the Human Rights of Migrants, Refugeesand Asylum Seekers (London: Liberty, 1995), 44.)
It is Alfie’s quasi-unconditional hospitality towards Tanya that pushes the logic of last resort to the limits, turning invitation into expulsion from the presumed paradise, displacing inclusion by exclusion.
The bleak message of the film points to the impossibility of altering the conditions of the state-provided hospitality. Tanya’s last resort from the last resort, and from the conditions of her right of resort, can mean nothing but escape, taking refuge from the laws of representation of the refugee.
And yet, I am tempted to read the ways of altering hospitality both into the film and into its reception in my own subjective way, from my own position of the participant observer, the Eastern European female in Britain.
For me, it is Tanya’s naïve picture of a blue boat which shows, symbolically, the way of escape from the last resort, and, when recognised, a signifier of her repressed subjectivity, points to a way of altering the regimes of truth about her.
Ignored and repressed on the verbal level, the boat returns, significantly, in one of the most frequently reproduced film-stills, an image of Tanya carrying the picture under her arm in the closing sequences of the film.
I believe, however, that this particular film-still, singled out by many critics as the master image of their analyses, the image in which the sexual framework has been displaced by that of recognition of professional identification, is imbued with a potential to enter strategically the battle of signification, allowing the reader, including the one who has not seen the film, to decentre the pre-established scopic regimes stuck onto the non-western female in the West.
If hospitality is coterminus with representation then the shift in the patterns of the later is bound to resonate in the laws of the first.