Against All Odds

by Yasmina Reggad

“(…) to be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail, that failure is his world and the shrink from it desertion, art and craft, good housekeeping, living. No, no, allow me to expire. I know that all that is required now, in order to bring this horrible matter to an acceptable conclusion, is to make this submission, this admission, this fidelity to failure, a new occasion, a new term of relation, and of the act which, unable to act, obliged to act, he makes an expressive act, even if only of itself, of its impossibility, or its obligation.”
(Samuel Beckett)

Ismaël had wanted to be a film director since an early age. Facing the lack of access to equipment, writing appeared to be the only way for him to enter cinema. Throughout the years, Ismaël has compulsively written many screenplays. He seriously intended to turn two of them into feature films, but failed in one case before and in the other too soon after he’d starting shooting. Moreover, this routine immersion into the writing of stories was interrupted when his inspiration ran dry during the three years he spent in Toulouse, France. While he was there, Ismaël was faced with the fact that he was unable to write a story that took place anywhere outside his home country, Tunisia.

Since science teaches us that success comes by means of failure, can making the risk of failure create a space of opportunity and a world of possibilities between the intention and realization of a work of art?
The perspective of success usually guides an artist’s intentions.
While planning the coming two weeks in Florence, Ismaël and I decided to formulate a statement or intentionality that the artist will fail, that it will be impossible for him to write or to think of a story that he will find inspiration in this foreign environment. According to scientific methodology, however, even if no experiments falsify our hypothesis, we still would have worked successfully on our collaboration.

Being the curator, I am supposed to provide support and guidance to Ismaël during his research and throughout the development of the final artwork. How can I become involved in the process of writing a screenplay, especially when its existence and achievement are threatened from its inception? How to turn failure into acceptable conduct and artistic method or dispositif in order to leave room for new questions in the context of which a work of art might emerge?
I shall then contribute by assessing our hypothesis to be falsifiable through experiments using the method of trial and error, which would show that our statement concerning the impossibility of writing a screenplay in Florence is false.
From the point of view of the artist, the expectation of failure with its promise of doubt, experimentation, and challenge is a paradoxical state of mind to strive for. Parallel to Ismaël’s progress in engaging with a project he knows will fail, I have developed a personal strategy of resistance to defy the unknown and the unexpected in hope of success.

Now that the location has been defined by our presence in Italy, I believe my margin of influence or role as independent variable lie in intrusions into the development of the plot. Although our daily life in Florence may give rise to specific locations, events, characters, and dialogues, I will encourage certain situations, tensions, and conflicts to occur as potential elements to be included in the story.

Lock in coincidences


Light coming from the glass ceiling. On the wall of the first floor: a photograph by Mladen Stilinovic, titled Artist at Work, accompanied by the text The Praise of Laziness by the same artist.

Walking down the stairs, MATTEO recounts to YASMINA how much Sofiane insisted that he watch David Lynch’s films, particularly Blue Velvet.



Renaissance buildings made from imposing stone. Shops with luxury brands in storefront windows. Tourists passing by speaking English. Tourists taking group pictures.

Coming from the Oltrarno area, ISMAËL and YASMINA cross the St. Trinity Bridge. They stroll through the narrow streets leading off the Arno River. At a crossway, YASMINA leads the way towards the street on the right.


ISMAËL and YASMINA stand in front of the building of the Odeon Cinema. Ismaël: Before you arrived, a friend of Simohammed talked about a historical art-deco cinema in a historical theatre. Shall we book tickets for tomorrow’s Blue Velvet screening?


Potential twists for the third act.

On Friday, around 1 a.m., Leone takes me to the Nigerian shop in Quartiere San Frediano, which transforms into an informal bar at dusk. I leave him sitting outside and head to the toilet at the back of the shop while a group of men gathers around the owner’s computer.
Above them, an LCD screen displaying the time 1:02 is playing a loud Nigerian music video. In the back room, the door to the toilet is wide open and the light turned off. However, it emerges that a man is inside. I excuse myself, to which he responds “No worries.” I sit on the arm of the chair with my legs stretched out towards the wall, blocking access into and out of the small room. My shadow’s figure on the toilet door is surprisingly sharp. The toilet flushes, and water runs in the sink. The TV screen marks 1:13. Yet no one comes out. Impatient, I go to the door to rush the man out, and find the cubicle empty.
Leone tells me that I need a talisman in order to ward off any lost souls or evil spirits that might be wandering through the labyrinthine Villa Romana. That night I sleep quietly, holding a stone in my hand that I have seen lying near the library window.

A belated inciting incident.

ActuUNE Publié le 25 juillet 2013 à 16:54
Le leader du parti Al Joumhouri, Ahmed Néjib Chebbi, est intervenu sur les ondes de Mosaïque FM pour réagir au meurtre, le 25 juillet, de Mohamed Brahmi.

Ahmed Néjib Chebbi a exprimé sa peine et sa tristesse suite à la perte de Mohamed Brahmi tout en soulignant les dangers qui guettent la transition démocratique tunisienne. Par ailleurs, Ahmed Néjib Chebbi a demandé la dissolution de l’Assemblée nationale constituante et du gouvernement. Il a également préconisé la mise en place d’un gouvernement d’union nationale chargé de mener le pays vers des élections dans les 6 mois.

Ismaël left on the morning of day 12 of our residency in Florence to be with his people and to witness the development of the revolution that had begun in Tunisia in December 2010.
On the day of Ismaël’s departure, no planes were allowed to land in Tunisia due to the national strike organised in response to the murder of Mohamed Brahmi. It took him about three days to reach Tunis via Paris, time during which he remained silent.
In his absence, I decided to reproduce and take over his daily activities in Florence, collecting all sorts of printed papers, taking location shots, gathering stories, etc. More than ever, I tried to be the main character of this film in the making.
It took me a long time to understand the value of Ismaël’s sudden departure. This interruption was an intrusion of reality and politics into a space of genuine narratives, where anything could be made up to serve fiction. Somehow we were living inside a screenplay in the making.
By announcing, in the present text, the murder of a man via the screen grab of a tweet sent to Ismaël at that time, am I marking the limits and the end of a trivial experiment? On the contrary, I am inscribing this event inside the plot, making it the trigger for Ismaël, the hero, to take action and change the course of the story.
I could not help but think that this real-life tragic event was intrinsic to our failure. At the same time, it was threatening a revolution by leading it towards its own failure.
Again, why is it acceptable in the realm of art to conclude that our failure is our success? Boris Groys answers “the artistic attitude shifts our attention from the goals and results of different political and social practices to the make-up of the subjects of these practices”. (1) By leaving Florence, the artist took political action and became an activist subject to self-concealment and failure proper to political reality. Subsequently, when an artist is engaged in an artistic activity and ready for self- exposure can “a failed political action (…) be a good work of art”. (2)

(1) Boris Groys, Artistic Self-Exposure, in: Frieze, Issue 1, summer 2011, available online: selbstenthuellung/?lang=en (last accessed in July 2013)

(2) Ibid