Marko Grba Singh’s film Abdul & Hamza (2015) is a slow-burning atmospheric part-fact, part-fiction tale of two Somali refugees navigating the forested anyplace between Serbia and Romania. The film throws us head first into low-lit night shots, grey skies and sunless days. The film intercuts between two timelines, stationed in the same geography but gives us a before and after frame.
In the before, Singh is invisible. He follows the eponymous Abdul and Hamza as they plan their escape. It is not clear how they got here or where they are going next, there is a mention of Belgrade and the promised protection of a GPS app on their phone but where are they going? They briefly talk about each other’s life in another place, in another time but we never know what happened.
In the after, Singh is the centre of the frame. He revisits the places Abdul and Hamza inhabited for the limited time he knew them. He doesn’t know what happened to them. Did they make it to their promised land? Did they get caught and deported? Or worse, were they killed? For him, they disappeared. There is a clear presence of anxiety on Singh’s face. His crew are here to re-record ambient sounds, perhaps for the post-production of his film but he seems elsewhere, like his two friends perhaps are.
The film’s most interesting element is the atmosphere. There is an underlying nostalgia even before the film gets going. Abdul and Hamza have a carefully curated show of their nostalgia for their home perhaps, Singh has a silent ruminating nostalgia for the time he spent with Abdul and Hamza and in a single scene, a random stranger who has a brief conversation with the both of them, starts telling them about his life in the middle-east, a nostalgia of his own.
The landscape is unforgiving. We feel a chill in the air and the trees rustle with a volume that is uncomfortably haunting. The film is very much at home with Berwick’s theme for this year– ‘fact or fiction’.