' ' Cinema Romantico: Welcome

Monday, November 08, 2010


A film focused on a young illegal immigrant in France who has been barred from entering England to reunite with the girl he loves and, thus, who determines to swim the English channel to get to her is ripe for a fairytale, and this would have been fine. Reading the premise it was exactly what I expected. It's not what "Welcome" (available on Netflix either by disc or to stream) is. Rather this 2009 film from Phillippe Lioret cuts deeper, doesn't just jerk tears from your eyes but forceably removes them with pliars and transforms into a deeply moving political statement that never ever - and this is crucial - makes a statement politically.  I highly encourage everyone reading to see this movie.

Firat Ayverdi is Bilal, a Kurd, 17 years old, who has walked all the way from Iraq to Calais, a port town in the north of France, after having been held prisoner by the Turkish army for eight days. His one true love, Mina (Derya Ayverdi), is in London where her father is going to marry her off to her cousin. Bilal's first attempt to escape France with a few others comes undone entirely because of himself and so he turns to the cold, hard, unforgiving waters of the Channel as his chance to flee.

He meets a swimming instructor, Simon (Vincent Lindon), at a public pool who first agrees to give lessons to Bilal but quickly infers what the 17 year old is up to. He warns him of the dangers, again and again, but still teaches him, gives him a wetsuit, and ends up sheltering him, an egregious no-no within the confines of the law of the land. Simon is also in the midst of a genteel divorce with his wife Marion (Audrey Dana) who helps run a soup kitchen for the numerous illegal's stuck on the streets of Calais with nowhere else to go. Early in the film she does chastise - slightly - her husband for his apparent unwillingness to get involved in the immigration issue. So when he does offer endless aid to Bilal is this at the behest of Marion or is it something else? Perhaps it's a bit of both?

Lindon's work here is both amazing and unassuming. He procures great mileage just from his eyes, distressed and drooping, as the film allows for several shots of him just sitting in the quiet of his apartment, utterly simple shots that speak volumes.  He makes the changes in his character seem gradual, nearly unnoticeable and, thus, entirely believable.  "I've made trouble for you," Bilal says a couple times and Lindon's variations of "It doesn't matter" convey that, indeed, it does matter, both in how it might threaten his everyday existence and in the grand scheme.  He doesn't give a speech and the movie itself never really gets on a pedestal.  Instead it puts you on surface level with Simon, seeing Bilal, seeing what he wants, seeing what he's up against, and it sounds as hackneyed as Americans making fun of the French, sure, but if all you see is an Illegal Alien and not a Human Being than, well, shit, man, why don't you just wave the cosmic white flag and go live in a backwoods cabin with a scythe you sharpen every day in readiness for Armageddon?

And the end, good grief, Charlie Brown, the end, Bilal slashing through the gray water, that haunting piano chord underscoring the gallant helplessness of this quest, I could not help but think of one of my favorite lines in movie history, spoken, of all people, by a French girl named Celine: "It's almost impossible to succeed, but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt."


Castor said...

Superb review Nicholas. I haven't seen the movie but I surely will now!

Nick Prigge said...

Thanks! It had been since July that I saw a movie I liked this much. Just a wonderful feeling.