Les spectres de l’Europe, ce ne sont donc pas exactement ces gens « séculaires et sacrés », vêtus d’imperméables en plastiques et qui tentent de passer une frontière … : ce sont les questions qu’ils posent à notre présent, à nos propres désirs comme à nos mémoires politiques. Ils apparaissent comme des spectres parce que leur inquiétante étrangeté fait en nous monter l’angoisse du chez-soi autrefois. (Georges Didi-Huberman, 2017: 75)

When the Berlin Wall fell in autumn 1989, we believed that the epoch of walls and frontiers would be over. It was a time when people came together, when they showed that they had far more in common than what they had been made to believe. It was an age of hope, of optimism, a triumph of the human.

Thirty years later, there is little left of what spurred people on at the time. That which divides takes center stage. The Mediterranean has become a mass grave of 30,000 people who started their journey full of hope and dreams. Along the Balkan route, migrants are violently pushed back by national police forces. A 186-kilometre-long wall, five metres high and topped with barbed wire, built along the Polish-Belarusian border, has become the new physical symbol of Europe’s migration policy.

The time for walls and fences, for illegal push backs and deportation centres is now. Chronos no longer walks towards the future. He looks over his shoulder to see a past that catches up with the present.

“Seeing them reminds me of old times,” says an elderly woman to another over coffee. It is here on the Balkan route that Chronos is caught up with. It is here, in the region of the former Yugoslavia, at the Bosnian-Croatian border, that the passing-through of migrant groups changes the course of time. Swiss director Nicole Vögele observes the hopeful from a respectful distance, allowing each of them to become part of the mountainous landscape they need to cross.

Each migrant is a little dot on screen, covered and protected by a landscape that still carries the wounds of past wars. Old tanks in the woods, unexploded mines in open fields. The war – their war – may be over, but the scars and wounds, with their potential to kill, remain. And yet, it is those very wounds that build a protective cocoon around those who flee, who dream, and who risk everything they have.

At night, the wind howls, the rain pours down, the police chase and forcibly remove. What remains are traces of those who tried: a jacket, a shoe, a broken mobile phone, photographs, now covered with autumn leaves and inspected by eager insects in search for food. And a hypnotising drone sound that is as unsettling as it is foreshadowing.

High-pitched screams in the woods, the wind in the trees, the beeping of mine detectors – Vögele’s film is as focused on sound as it is on images. Her film is hypersensitive to the sensory experiences that mark so much a migrant’s journey through unknown land, always afraid of being caught by the police and sent back across the border. The proximity of sound is balanced by the distance in the images. The director always shows in context, never singles out. The people are embedded in their surroundings, are part of a collective, a community. The migrants may be passing through, their presence ephemeral, and yet their coming and going in this almost intimate Bosnian-Croatian border region is permanent.

The locals help as they can, reminded as they are of their own struggles in a war-torn country thirty years ago. They give food, clothes, phone chargers. And when a few migrants sit outside an old, now unused and rundown school, which serves as a resting place for those on the move, and warm themselves at a fire at night, little distinguishes them from all those people who lost their homes during the Bosnian War. It is a repetition of what has been. It is this repetition that we want to lock away by forcibly removing migrants. It is this repetition that we don’t want to be remembered of. We remove and deport in an attempt to chase away the ghosts of the past.

But the more we chase, the more we’re haunted.

Il est un lieu où se rencontrent la survivance … et l’avenir. … C’est l’enfance. (Georges Didi-Huberman, 2017: 85)

The people we see in Vögele’s film have no past. They have been parachuted into our present and we’re asked to experience their cyclical time, their never-ending present with them. They only exist in the here and now; their linear time, their linear life story is suspended until they find a place to stay, until they are granted the right to stay, to work, to feel safe and secure once again.

One of the men bought a small inflatable swimming pool for the children. It’s summer, the sun is hot, and the group seeks to recover from several days of hiking through the woods before they continue their journey. A moment of joy, of innocence, of happiness. A moment of triumph. The happy screams of playing children are a reminder that life continues, even if time is suspended. But only children are granted this magic power over time and life. Adults, on the other hand, walk in circles, imprisoned as they are in a never-ending present.

“I didn’t think we would end up here again”, we hear in the off.

So it is that a group of people finds itself back at the same place they started off at. The landscape is as protecting as it is deceiving. Everything looks the same, only the seasons change. Autumn, winter, summer – seasons come and go, but the landscape itself never changes.

Are we in Bosnia-Herzegovina? Are we in Croatia? Where is the frontier?

This is where Vögele’s film takes its power from. There is no frontier, except an arbitrary line drawn on a map, an arbitrary line wars had been fought over. The landscape knows no frontier. Time knows no frontier. Nor do hopes and dreams. It is, in fact, Vögele’s film that shatters the frontiers: those who fled war in the past help those who flee war in the present. Several temporal layers overlap, here in the woods at the Bosnian-Croatian border, amongst shepherds and sheep, amongst teachers and school children.

Nicole Vögele’s new film The Landscape and the Fury adds to a growing body of work by filmmakers who use their cameras in an attempt to make sense of what’s happening at our borders. Agnieszka Holland (Green Border), Matteo Garrone (IO Capitano), Gianfranco Rosi (Fuocoammare) as well as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (Human Flow) and many others have used images to show what cannot be put into words. Some films scream with anger, others with despair. The Landscape and the Fury does neither. Vögele’s film is a quiet, patient observation of what is, rather than of what should be. It is a portrait of humanity, of the human in people who have more in common than which divides them. It is an observation of solidarity between those who know, those who endured and survived, an observation of the hand-in-hand relationship of past and present, of history and history-in-the-making. The Landscape and the Fury is a deeply human portrait of life at a border, which doesn’t divide but brings together.

(For more information about the film, please visit the official website.)