One of those returnees who spends a great deal of time observing the city and how it changed in his absence is film director Ghassan Salhab. And he too is preoccupied with questions of presence and invisibility. This afternoon in his sparsely furnished apartment, he offers us a viewing of his last movie, Terra Incognita, which had its first showing in Cannes in 2002. A story of another returnee drifting through the city, trailing his former girlfriend, who spreads her desires thin over a number of unknowns and refuses to pick up her history with him.
'The returnee waits at the edge of the company,' he says. 'Just like the film itself. It is hard to make a film about a city that is constantly changing, in a strange rhythm, a nervous slowness. You don't know in which direction it is moving, only that it'�s moving. That state is like a virus, it works itself into the structure of the story. How do you tell the story of a city that doesn't know its own history, and which story do you tell about yourself? Who are you anyway - it's hard being someone here, without being part of a community.' He hands me a dvd with some of his short video's, made over the past few years. 'My video's too are always concerned with borders, between you and me, between me and the group, between countries. But those borders are invisible, and that is why they interest me. That is what cinema is about: to grasp that invisible border, the skin being the first border.' His short video's often show himself: a handsome, if somewhat evasive man who has seen life. (He spent one day, he told me, during the war, pressed against a wall in the city next to a complete stranger, watching two people lying right in front of them, dying a slow and agonizing death, bleeding to death after having been shot by a sniper who will surely kill him too if he moves into the street. Only when night has fallen does he dare move away into safety.) Nothing much happens. His face slowly comes into focus, the wind tickling the hair above his ears, then fades away again, ever so slowly. In another video, out of two blurry shapes emerge the faces of him as a young boy and his mother, a pretty woman in the fashion of the Arab sixties, only to retreat again after a few minutes into the vagueness of shadows. Like his feature film, these video's give the viewer all the time he needs to wonder about questions of presence, visibility, memory, representation. His next movie, The Last Man, is fresh out of the editing room. Nobody has seen it yet. 'This one will be even slower,' he warns us with a smile, 'even less action.'