“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: Omar, a Lebanese professional seeking a massage (and probably more), and Marco, masseuse/sex worker trying to pass himself off as a Spaniard. The setting is London, and pre-erotic small talk opens the door to discovery where we learn of their very different, yet strikingly parallel, displacement narratives.
It takes no time for Omar to detect Marco is not who he says he is. Marco has in fact changed his identity to disguise that he’s a Syrian refugee, but he is not the only one disguising his persona. Despite impassioned phone calls from someone in Lebanon who may be Omar’s mother, Omar avoids communication with her, even during a family crisis. Omar’s hiding his London metropolitan life from his family in a way, mirrors Marco’s need to hide his Syrian identity from his London clientele.
Marco’s challenging and nearly miraculous escape from the Syrian civil war, what he does to survive in London, plus his overt devotion to the loved ones he’s left behind sheds light on the experience of millions of refugees worldwide in their efforts to survive. Memory of home is triggered by mere aromas and familiar food — in this case, sumac on eggs and the common odor of petrol from the street. These sensory stimuli often ignite homesickness and nostalgia that erupt when one is separated from homeland and family, yielding feelings of loneliness and melancholy, as vividly displayed here.
This tender encounter is sadly short-lived when Omar becomes aware of he building intimacy and tries to revert 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 continues 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