“Between man and love,
There is woman.
Between man and woman
There is a world.
Between man and the world
There is a wall”.1
So goes the poem by Antoine Tudal, “Paris in the Year 2000”, quoted by Lacan in the Écrits; but, as for Pyramus and Thisbe in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, sometimes the wall (an ever-ready metaphor for what separates and keeps people apart) is very palpably there, between the couple, right from the start of their relationship.
Perhaps, this is why Lacan later coined the term ‘Amur‘,2 condensing the word for love, ‘amour‘, and for wall, ‘mur’, to emphasise the barrier that language forms between couples — including all the determining factors of a person’s history and social environment, and all the impasses and impossibilities that its structure contains.
And so a lover’s discourse begins:
“Thou Wall, O Wall, O sweet and lovely Wall,
Show me thy chink, to blink through with mine eye.”3
A Syrian Love Story is a documentary filmed over 5 years by Sean McAllister, charting the relationship of a couple, Amer and Raghda, who first met through a chink in just such a wall. However, unlike the wall between Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this particular wall lay between cells in one of the infamous prisons of the Syrian regime, where Raghda (Amer’s future wife) was being tortured.
“A freshly beaten, bloodied and swollen face, just visible through a tiny hole in his cell wall. This was how Amer first caught sight of Raghda”.4
In what is referred to, appropriately enough, as the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ tradition of British documentary filmmaking, McAllister’s film picks up the thread of their relationship some years after their initial encounter, when Raghda has been sent to prison a second time for writing a political novel based on the circumstances in which they first met. It then follows the couple and their young family, with extraordinary candour and openness, and a surprising lightness of touch, through the turmoil and tragedy unfolding in Syria, through their political struggle and their exile, first in Lebanon, and then in Paris and elsewhere in France (where they were granted refugee status by the French Government), to the final break-up of their relationship – when elements of the wall that had been there from the start reassert themselves in ways that can no longer be accommodated within the couple.
“It is the tragic portrait of a disintegrating marriage; the story of two people whose love has been hammered by fate, history and each other.”5
“A microcosm of a global crisis.”6
The film was broadcast on the BBC at the end of September,7 and won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sheffield Doc/Fest earlier this year. It will shortly be competing for another such award at the Copenhagen Documentary film festival, CPX: DOX and it also recently featured in an episode of “Outlook” on the BBC’s World Service.8
It is not Paris in the year 2000, as imagined by Antoine Tudal in the 1950s, but the reality of a globalised world, a globalised Paris, of the 21st century and, if you get the chance, it is a must-see for the upcoming Journées of the ECF, to be held in Paris on the 14th-15th of November 2015, on the theme: Faire-Couple.
Yet its interest for the psychoanalytic community does not stop there, in what it means to form a couple in the 21st century amid the turbulence and the fallout of global politics, or even with the fact that it serves as a poignant reminder of the way it mobilised its forces in 2011 to help free the Syrian psychoanalyst Rafah Nached from her detention in Duma. For as Jacques-Alain Miller said in establishing the theme for the next Congress of the World Association of Psychoanalysis, in his presentation “The Unconscious and the Speaking Body”:
“Amur means above all that the wall of language has to be pierced through anew each time in order to grasp more tightly, let’s not say the real, but rather what we do in our analytic practice.”9
So it’s love then – and transference to a cause – that brings two people together in a situation in which at least one of them will find themselves, as Lacan put it, speaking to walls.10
1 Jacques Lacan, Écrits, trans. Bruce Fink (London/New York, Routledge, 2006), p. 239.
2 Lacan uses the pun in different ways in the course of his work. See, for example, Jacques Lacan, Encore,trans. Bruce Fink (London/New York: Norton, 1998), p. 5: “There are traces on l’amur”.
3 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, scene 1.
4 Kate O’Sullivan, “Meet the Syrian revolutionaries who fell in love through a prison wall”, The Telegraph. 25/09/2015.
5 Peter Bradshaw, “A Syrian Love Story – Review, a searing insight into a marriage under fire”, The Guardian. 17/09/2015. http://www.theguardian.com/
6 Mark Kermode, “A Syrian Love Story – a microcosm of a global crisis”, The Guardian. 20/09/2015.
7 Available on the BBC iplayer at the time of writing.
8 Available on the BBC iplayer Radio, (20 minutes) here.
9 Jacques-Alain Miller, “The Unconscious and the Speaking Body”,, Hurly-Burly 12 (2015), p. 120. Also available online at: http://www.wapol.org
10 Cf. Jacques Lacan, Je Parle Aux Murs, Paris, Seuil, 2011.