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From the Other Side of the Mediterranean: Hospitality in Italian Migration Cinema


In the last twenty years, Italy has experienced an unprecedented influx of immigrants from non-European countries, which has posed challenges to its social, political, and cultural structures. In the tradition of Neorealist political engagement, Italian film directors have been among the first intellectuals to explore the issues that the increasing diversity of the Italian nation poses to Italians and foreign-born immigrants alike, beginning with Michele Placido’s Pummarò (1990) and Gianni Amelio’s Lamerica (1994). This article focuses on three more recent examples of Italian migration cinema: Marco Tullio Giordana’s Quando sei nato non puoi più nasconderti (2005), Vittorio De Seta’s Lettere dal Sahara (2004), and Mohsen Melliti’s Io, l’altro (2007). In each of these films, the Mediterranean is constructed as a transitional space of personal transformation, where identities are defined, alliances formed and conflicts played out. It is a privileged space of dialogue and encounter with the other, reasserting the relevance of “il suo statuto di confine, di interfaccia, di mediazione tra i popoli.” Through an analysis especially informed by Franco Cassano’s Pensiero meridiano, as well as Jacques Derrida’s notion of hospitality, and Slavoj Zizek’s understanding of liberal multiculturalism, the article shows how these films offer a critique of Italian societal practices and individual cultural attitudes towards otherness. The representation of the Mediterranean in these films, in particular, offers an opportunity to contemplate Europe’s own contingency, to experience and recognize the limits of its practices of hospitality toward immigrants. It is precisely this tension that which, according to Derrida, makes the perfectibility of laws and social practices, if not a political reality, at least a possibility.

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