“Hi, Marco.” says the young man at the door.
In less that twenty-two minutes filmmaker Saleem Haddad tells us a story of a chance meeting of two men: one a Lebanese professional seeking a massage (and probably more), and a masseuse/sex worker trying to pass himself off as a Spaniard. The setting is London, and the pre-erotic small talk opens the door to interpersonal discovery where we learn of their very different, yet strikingly parallel, displacement narratives.
In no time at all, Omar, the Lebanese professional, detects Marco is not who he says he is, and that he’s in fact changed his persona in an effort to disguise the truth that he’s a Syrian refugee. But Marco is not the only one disguising his persona. Despite impassioned phone calls from someone in Lebanon who may be Omar’s mother, he avoids communication from home, even during a family crisis that, in a way, mirrors Marco’s need to hide his Syrian identity.
Marco speaks not only of his challenging and nearly miraculous escape from the ghastly Syrian conflict, but also his devotion to his loved ones left behind and his effort to support them in his absence. And it is here that the director underscores how powerful connection to home can be when homeland memory is activated by mere aromas and familiar food (in this case, sumac on eggs). And while living in London, a thoroughly modern major city, Marco misses the simple smell of petrol. These powerful sensory stimuli are often the triggers of homesickness and the subsequent melancholy that erupts when one is separated from home and family, often yielding feelings of loneliness, as vividly displayed here.
The meeting of these men creates but a momentary oasis that unexpectedly sidetracks their erotic intentions with the romantic connection. But it is sadly short-lived when Omar becomes aware of he building intimacy and tries to transform the relationship back to one of business.
Saleem Haddad says the inspiration for the Marco character was a homeless refugee he met on the streets of London. In preparation for filming, he rehearsed the actors for several days, observing their dynamic and allowing them input about who the characters were and how they might behave. Millions of views later and to much critical acclaim, the story, now several years old, is still deeply important in light of crisis that continue to drive people from their homes and unexpectedly in the arms of strangers.
MarcoWritten & directed by Saleem HaddadProduced by Jack CaseyCinematography by Deepa KeshvalaOmar played by Zed JosefMarco/Ahmed played by Marwan Kaabour