Wednesday, May 22, 2013

La Cage Doree or On being a foreigner

The Golden Cage is exactly what we are all looking for; ready to give up freedom for comfort, security and quality of life. Quality of life stands for things we can own, not abstractions. Being bohemian is not declared as a component of high standards of living, so freedom, is ruled out of the equation. Freedom is not of this world anyway.

So, you actually have to choose between the following two: do you want to be poor (in a crisis-struck or plain poor country) or do you prefer being a foreigner (anywhere else)? This is the burning question of our generation. It has always been for me, coming from one of the so-called countries of the south. Classified as rebellious, lazy, irresponsible countries.

A friend told me last summer, answering a question I never directly asked, but was wandering over our heads: "I want to live in a country where they speak my mother tongue". I found him brave; I found him idealistic. Poor conditions were not touching him, but having to switch his mindset and make the effort to re-invent himself as an entity, to try and compete with natives and probably having the disadvantage of a non-native speaker was a reality he could not accept. I admire him, in a way. He chooses not to make the excruciating effort to prove himself in the frame of a suspicious foreign topos. But, he is a writer, and language is all he's got.

In this fake comedy by Ruben Alves, a Portuguese family installed in Paris is facing a very crucial issue: repatriation. The parents lead a hard-working life, and they love every minute of it. Their kids act like Parisians, but keep a well-hidden complex deep inside: their humble Portuguese origins are pestering them, just like Oedipus could not accept the drunken fact that he was a bastard (and set out to discover the truth, for his disarray). Their son, a high-school boy is in love with his French cherie and their daughter has a well-paid job and is having a secret relationship with the son of her father's boss in the building site. It sounds like a mess, from a social-class point of view, doesn't it? For their parents, I mean; they explicitly declare preference to the Portuguese community and to people "like them". Their newfound homeland is not yet theirs; they do a particular effort to fit in. They behave, they don't complain, they are the perfect slaves. Their generous (sic) hosts are still a delicate but threatening presence in their mind. Keeping them happy, is the only way to secure their wellbeing. Servility due to heavy dependency; psychological turmoil at its best, if you think about it.

The troubling story begins like this: the alienated brother's will is giving them back the family business of wine-making, together with the family house; the one the father had always kept as his dearest memory, physically sticking a black-and-white print of it on the metal door of his locker at work, as if to keep nostalgia alive ("saudade" is the dearest feeling for Portuguese, they painfully cling to it, also through their fados, like true masochists). There's one condition: the only way to inherit their dream is to repatriate. Secretive discussions to solve this unmanageable dilemma lead nowhere. Until life takes the lead and makes a choice for them: the out-of-the-context boyfriend is slowly becoming all the more enchanted by his girlfriend and her exotic culture. The melancholy of fados, the tasty cuisine and who knows what else makes him take a brave decision: become the foreign "Other" himself, this time with all the advantages on his side. A sweet closure for a film that's hiding a troubling, unbalanced  immigrant nature, which is the human, never satisfied, nature after all, under certain comedic features from some of Portugal's well-known actors. 

Rita Blanco hardly gave in to a single smile throughout the film, imprisoned in the everyday-angst of her role as an emigrated mother, wife, sister, professional house-keeper, which personally made me feel uneasy, only to find out later that she's a leading comedian in her home country. She fooled me allright. Joaquim de Almeida, young and beautiful Barbara Cabrita and Maria Vieira, to name only a few, make this a bitter-sweet filmic experience and a true representation of the complexity of being an immigrant. Because, being at ease with money in a country that's not your own comes with clauses of a certain degree of difficulty. If you belong to the lower class, that is. Or, is it?

* What if you belong to the higher class and you move to another country temporarily or less so? Does this makes it any better? Are you then called an expat, rather than an immigrant or a migrant worker? Do you essentially feel different because you have a social status and a title that sounds quite ok? Are you not a foreigner, part of the alarming "Other" nevertheless? A big discussion is to be found online, on terminology/anthropology matters: what are the differences between the terms migrant worker, immigrant/emigrant, expatriate and the like. What we think/want to think/feel/want to feel we are, what others think we are and similar nuances of meaning that interconnect with absence or presence of wealth cannot actually change the very own personal feeling of being a foreigner, I reckon.

** To lighten up this post (for a happy end of sorts), I was very joyful to listen once more to the classic  or "mythical" Portuguese song, Uma Casa Portuguesa, by Amalia Rodrigues -hanging on the walls like their own Virgin Mary.

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