Pepe's View:

Welcome is another French movie being given a general release.  We saw this movie on 29 March at a World Cinema Screening which was a full house.  This film is extremely confronting, both because it deals with the issue of refugees in France that we are ignorant of, and because the issue resonates with our own refugee policies here in Australia.  The title "Welcome" is ironic as refugees passing through France and ending up in Calais trying to get across the channel to England are anything but welcome.  Although this film has caused much controversy in France as the French people are made aware of the treatment of these refugees, the director has indicated in interviews that his portrayal is in fact understated of the real situation.  The treatment of the refugees is reminiscent of both Nazi Germany and of the Stasi in East Germany. 

The movie involves a young boy, and Iraqi Kurd, who has travelled 4000km to France intending to get to England where his girlfriend is already.  He finds himself one of the 60000 or so refugees who have been in a similar situation since 2004 - unable to get across the channel except illegally by paying 500 Euros to people smugglers to hide them in trucks crossing to England. These trucks are the subject of intense searches at the border and almost all of the stowaways are caught and returned to Calais where they are left to live on the streets.  The people of Calais are prosecuted by police if they are seen to be assisting these refugees and volunteers who provide food and clothing are tolerated but treated with great suspicion by authorities.  Even shops refuse entry to the refugees so even if they can afford to buy food, they are excluded from doing so - similarly, they are excluded from the local swimming pool where they could at least get a shower.

The main protagonists of this movie are Bilal, played wonderfully by first time actor Firat Ayverdi, and a local swimming coach  Simon, played again very convincingly by Vincent Lindon.  Bilal decides that the only way to reach England and his sweetheart is to train at the pool so he can swim across the channel.  Simon is slowly drawn into helping and even more, caring for Filal, and all the refugees despite previously being ambivalent towards them.  Simon himself is going through a divorce from his wife, Marion, who is a school teacher who has been motivated to assist with the food kitchens set up by volunteers for the refugees.  It would seem that one of the isues between them is their involvement with the refugees and when Simon gets involved with Bilal, Marion finds new respect for him and is concerned for his safety.

Simon has been able to live in Calais while turning a blind eye to the suffering of those around him until he is confronted by a real person and then he finds he cannot ignore the plight of this person.  This is so true for most of us - we can ignore the plight of millions suffering around the world and in our community but will do anything to help a neighbour needing a hand.  We find it impossible to ignore the plight of a real person but can easily ignore the plight of a group.

This film is beautifully written and filmed.  It has beeen nominated for Best Director, best Film and Best Actor (Vincent Lindon) for the 2010 Caesars in France and deservedly so.  An extremely thought provoking film which makes us uncomfortable while entertaining and doesn't allow us to slide into escapism.

Score:   8.5/10

Ma's View:

Yes, Pepe has summed it up perfectly - the audience is confronted with the common humanity we share with these suffering "clandestines" to the very end of this superb drama.  Their dreams and aspirations are simple and exactly the same as ours - to lead a peaceful, happy life with their loved ones.

The dynamics of the relationship which develops between the 2 lead characters is central to the strength of this movie.  It is a study in developing recognition of a shared humanity; across the divides of culture and age, the swimming coach comes to care for the Kurdish teenager like a son, respecting his spirit and determination to swim the channel to reach the girl he loves.  Their common bond is that each is separated from the woman he loves, one by distance, the other by a fractured relationship on the point of divorce.

Filmed with almost documentary style realism in the cold, wet streets of Calais, the hardships of this tide of desperate people are depicted vividly, as is the brutally impersonal efficiency of the border guards who prevent their escape and prosecute locals who give them so much as lift in their car.  It crossed my mind that Britain must be financing this operation big-time to have French officials spend so much energy on it!

A wonderful film - in my mind's eye, I can still see young Bilal, a tiny scrap of humanity in the dark Channel among the tossing waves as a giant tanker bears down towards him - a symbol of how the cards are stacked against people like him.

My score: 9/10

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