By TERENCE KRISHNA V. LOPEZ
One of the themes of the movies screened at this year’s French Film Festival, which opened last June 3 at the Shangri-la Cineplex, is migration and how its perils affect human lives.
One such movie is the heartbreaking yet poignant Philippe Lioret’s full-length “Welcome,” which won big in last year’s Berlin International Film Festival.
Set in the beautiful Calais, an island in northern France, the closest to Britain where hundreds of Kurds are ‘illegally’ stranded because of failed attempts to get to England, the promised land, Welcome will certainly take anyone who watches closely to waves of human triumphs, failures and how the issue of migration encroaches even love.
Like other movies of the same theme, Welcome is peopled by characters who struggle so hard to earn a decent living by searching for greener pastures outside their native lands. And in this movie, the audience is charmed by the credible and almost otherworldly display of thespian skills of Firat Ayverdi who plays the main character, the 17 year-old Bilal so powerfully that we want to be him or be beside him and able to lend a helping hand.
Having travelled on foot from Iraq and arrested by the Turkish Army, Bilal becomes an illegal migrant in Calais along with hundreds more. Of course, their journey towards England is for their families who are all poverty-stricken.
What sets Bilal apart though, is that he is on his way to England for more than just work and decent wages. This teenager is bound to get his girl who recently emigrated to England with her family and is about to get married to a man she does not love.
One question though: how can he get there?
For the young and hopeful Bilal, it is easy. It became even easier when he met ex-swimming champion Simon Caliat, a man on the verge of divorce with her social activist wife Marion. Simon eventually became drawn to the young man who is his direct opposite in almost all aspects of his life. He found something in Bilal that touched him so deeply—his will to survive all waves, figuratively and literally- to get what he wants.
But through it all, Bilal will realize that like life, it is not at all easy to cross the ocean as his young mind thinks, in order to be with the one he loves and to give his family a better life. With this realization, the movie takes the audience to the series of events involving Bilal and Simon that will unfold culminating to dramatic heights that are almost insurmountable by human capabilities.
Alas, the movie succeeds in showing a portrait of a young and hopeful man and the things he can take for the sake of love, without sacrificing the relevance of showing the audience the situation of other illegal migrants in the story. In fact, it is even commendable how Lioret highlights the lives of the other characters without appearing to try hard at all.
It is also very important to note that the movie effortlessly shows how nations like France and England and their culture of intolerance and racism can kill both the dreams and the dreamers, in any order.
The movie’s strong points are obviously its actors led by Ayverdi, Vincent London (Simon) and Audrey Dana (Marion) and the other supporting cast who all deliver memorable performances, and the cinematography that exudes both the young Bilal’s vibrance and Simon’s introverted life alongside the island’s quiet mysticism and subtle volcanic eruptions courtesy of its cultural indifference and the state’s racial discrimination.
At some point though, the narrative can be quite dragging especially at the end when Lioret almost risked everything he gained for the sake of closing an issue, which actually was already closed a few minutes back. Bilal’s girlfriend and her doom with the man she barely knows, that is.
All in all, Bilal’s life and his fellow illegal migrants in Calais reflected that of millions of others in the world. “Welcome,” aside from clearly underscoring the dangerous lives of immigrants, illegal or legal for that matter, also showed that even in our own spaces and times, we can still feel like illegal aliens.
“Welcome” is a luminous movie. Its honesty is the kind that compels the audience to stay in the theater, shed tears selflessly and think thoroughly about his own biases, discriminations and alienations.
Finally, this movie touches the human heart in its most secret places, just what a movie of this kind should do. This is especially so, that here and abroad, the issue of migration and its causes continue to affect human lives now more than ever. (Bulatlat.com)