The Migrant, the Immigration Narrative, and ‘La Puerta de No Retorno’

Santiago Zannou was born in Spain to a Spanish mother and a father from Benin.  In The Door of No Return (La Puerta De No Retorno)[1], he tells the story of his father, Alphonse:

Santiago A. Zannou takes his father Alphonse to Benin, his homeland, 40 years after he left, to confront him to his fears and his lies. During this travel of redemption, Alphonse will search for the reconciliation with his last sister alive, but also the forgiveness of his ancestors, with the hope to cure the wounds of the past.

(from Dokia Films)

It took me a while to realize – I hadn’t yet read the synopsis above – that Alphonse was a real person, let alone Zannou’s father.  The trailer doesn’t feel like some son-gets-to-know-father formats I’m familiar with; the film is rightly a docudrama:

The story is very much Alphonse-centric, and puts the immigrant in the center of the immigration narrative.  From Taskovski Films, who distributes the English language version of the film:

Alphonse will have to face the past and the present of his homeland. He will have to talk and explain 40 years of silence, shame and disillusion. To his sister who has been waiting for him, also to his mother, who died without seeing him back. He knows that time has come to face all the questions he could not or did not want to answer for more than three decades.

Perhaps that framing is fresh(er) stance.  Here’s an interesting observation from scholar Swagata Basu of Jawaharlal Nehru University, with my emphasis added (a summary of her MPhil thesisSpanish Responses to Immigration Mapped Through Cinema is available on her blog online, and is well worth a read):

In case of Spanish immigration cinema, I would argue that identity alone is neither the central theme nor the driving force. Here the process of identification is foregrounded. Thus Identity crisis or cross cultural identity conflicts, which are typically observed in second generation immigrants, are often not the most recurring themes in Spanish immigration cinema. This is perhaps because second generation immigrants do not yet form a considerable part of the Spanish society. Instead Spanish immigration cinema currently maps the various responses of the Spanish people towards the immigrants, thereby throwing light as much upon the notions that the Spanish people have about themselves as about the others.

Perhaps Santiago Zannou, the son of an immigrant and a rising force of Spanish cinema, is beginning to change that.


[1] I don’t know how to gauge this entirely, but it seems that the phrase ‘door of no return’ doesn’t have same currency in Spain as it does in Americas (or maybe just Anglophone America?), where it connotes the Atlantic slave trade and the facilities that housed slaves along the African Atlantic coast, or, specifically, the Maison des Esclaves on Gorée Island in Senegal.

About BFC/A

The Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University was established in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about black people. The BFC/A's primary objectives are to promote scholarship on black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to encourage creative film activity by independent black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of black film traditions. View all posts by BFC/A

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