Home truths

Two powerful films bring Europe’s migrant crisis to life

Berlin this year might have been deprived of its snow cover, but a gentle drizzle this morning brought down the temperature, bringing out the caps and gloves. While it may be chilly outside, the well-oiled Berlinale organisation, with the staff ever ready to help and smiling volunteers added warmth. The film festival has always claimed that its programming is topical and political, and sure enough, political and issue-based films stoked the heat this time around as well.

Is the standing ovation that Gianfranco Rosi received at the presser for his documentary film Fire At Sea any indication of the people’s reaction to the refugee crisis currently gripping Europe? The film deals with illegal migrants trying to reach Europe through the Italian island of Lampedusa. Stacked like sardines in small boats by human traffickers without proper food, water or ventilation for days together, many fall sick and die, many are drowned due to leaky boats and those who manage to be rescued are sent to detention camps. The film, seen through the eyes of a local boy, Samuel, who prefers to play on the land with his sling shots rather than go to sea like other migrants and Dr Bartolo who has helped in the rescue missions of several sinking boats, brings palpably alive the sufferings of hapless migrants. While the film does not discuss the politics behind the migrations, it briefly hints at the necessity to investigate the reasons for this and how to make it possible for people to remain in their own countries.

Gianfranco Rosi said that he went to Lampedusa to make a 10-minute short film but ‘got completely immersed in the reality around’ him. The Lazy Eye of Samuel can be compared to the view of our politicians on this issue’ he said. Samuel talks of ‘passion’ even in making and using slingshots. The film, narrated through the eyes of firing his shots at cactus plants, is “indicative of how we destroy things and then try to tape them together.” Powerful words and visuals with deep meaning but are the powers that be who play this game listening?

Tunisian director Mohamedd Ben Attia’s debut film in Arabic, Hedi, depicts young Tunisians’ search for happiness. A Tunisian Arabic film made after about twenty years, and coming five years after the Arab Spring, the film is devoid of any overt political statement. The well layered film juxtaposes the tradition represented by Hedi’s mother and would-be wife with the modern, represented by Hedi and Rim who long to live their lives on their own terms. They would not hesitate to get out of the country, seeking satisfaction and wealth and live their dreams.

The film is populated by two powerful women, Hedi’s mother who would like to be in control of the situation all the times and Rim, who is young, modern and aspirational. But in the end, it’s how a shy and reticent Hedi transforms into a different and defiant man, willing to break the engagement on the day of the wedding and stand up to his dominant mother and assertive brother -— the effect of his ‘love at first sight’ with Rim.

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