United States/France, 2016 | Philip Cartelli
Shot over two years in the Mediterranean seaport of Marseille (France), Promenade is a sensory investigation of historical traces that emerge amid urban renewal. The film is organized around the comings and goings of people and ships, cutting between different locations to convey a sense of the different kinds of interactions that take place daily.
The footage reveals a convergence of different classes of people, nationalities, ethnicities, and races. Street sellers push their carts of mint tea and bottled water toward prime locations. Residents take advantage of the early morning to jog or to fish. Pale tourists march in formation under white hats while carrying heavy backpacks. Others retreat to the shade, where they walk their dogs. At night people gather to play pétanque, a game with balls that originates in southern France.
Rather than adding voiceover or testimony, the film’s soundscape is entirely ambient. Waves crash against the shore or seawall. Joggers disturb gravel. Street musicians play violins. Church bells ring, boat engines groan, and birds chirp. Fishermen converse in French, radios broadcast Arabic songs, and tourists banter in Italian, English, and other languages.
Shots are also framed to convey a sense of space and place. Human figures are dwarfed by architecture whose scale evokes the size of the ships that enter the harbor. Light and shadow play against angular building and metal grilles, evoking the glimmer of sunlight on waves. The images call to mind the enigmatic compositions of Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical paintings, though with a less menacing scale.
Urban design is a form of social engineering. It determines encounters between different groups and creates segregated spaces. Once a major port of arrival, not only for goods from abroad, but also for Amazigh (Berber), Arab, and African migrant labor, as elsewhere, Marseille’s cultural diversity is largely displaced and whitewashed by renewal projects. For those who knew Marseille in the past, the video is an elegy to “le temps perdu.” Docks are now walkways; warehouses are museums.