In the tradition of filmmakers like
Ken Loach and Gillo Pontecorvo, Philippe Lioret has crafted a diligently-researched
and heartfelt portrait of an ongoing contemporary social issue that
is too often abstracted by political interests, paranoia, media hyperbole,
and a fearful public. Illegal immigration continues to plague
the western world because our way of life is often attractive to others,
but reactions to this issue are usually ass-backwards in both short-term
efficacy and long-term diplomatic viability. France has a reputation
for being highly reactionary regarding immigration, a reputation that
may allow some Americans watching Welcome to wishfully suppose
that the fictional events depicted therein couldn't happen here.
But there will be just as many stateside viewers who see only parallels
and portents in Welcome, with our own wholly unproductive immigration
debate having created such a divisive and surreal atmosphere of content-less
acrimony. (As an aside, it's worth pointing out that viewing
Welcome one week after Robert Rodriguez' Machete was a
stark and bizarre object lesson in stylistic intent.)
Lioret's film begins with Bilal (Firat
Ayverdi), a teenager from Kurdistan, arriving in Calais via various
illegal modes of transport. On his way to cross into England,
where he hopes to join his girlfriend Mina, Bilal is stopped by police.
Trapped in Calais, he takes up learning to swim at a public pool with
the intention of crossing the channel himself. His teacher is
former Olympic gold medalist Simon (Vincent Lindon), who takes Bilal
under his wing despite pressure from local police, who energetically
prosecute illegal immigrants and those who aide them, including Vincent's
estranged wife (Marion), who operates a soup kitchen near the harbor.
As Bilal's determination to swim the English Channel grows, and as
the authorities start to close in, Vincent becomes more committed to
Lioret and his creative team have clearly
conducted a lot of research into how illegal immigrants survive in a
country where they are unwanted and pursued. Merely stepping into
the daylight is dangerous, let alone trying to make contact with people
in a position to assist them. Bilal's world is one in which
he's expected to wear a plastic bag over his head during transport
in order to avoid inhaling exhaust - in other words, there's no
guarantee that he'll even make it to his destination alive.
Young Firat Ayverdi plays Bilal with wide-eyed determination combined
with soul-weathered weariness - although he'd give anything to be
able to stop running, he won't do so until he reaches Mina once again.
As Simon, Vincent Lindon has the face
and body of a one-time champion, now beaten by time and experience.
His bloodshot eyes tell us almost everything we need to know about the
character, and we understand that his desire to help Bilal at least
in part stems from a sense of his own failures.
The characters of Welcome elevate
the film well above its social and political subject matter. The
story is not provocative for the sake of it; Lioret carefully crafts
the film around its characters and their particular motivations.
This is not Oliver Stone territory; Bilal and Vincent are not just cinematic
marionettes whose sole purpose is delivering a message. Lioret
cares about his characters because he knows that they - not he -
will make his point stronger than any polemic ever could. Welcome
resists easy answers for complicated problems, and its conclusion only
suggests that we rely on our own best impulses rather than reactive,
The enhanced widescreen transfer carries the film's atmospheric
2.35:1 image to DVD will good fidelity and a strongly film-like appearance.
Moody lighting creates a sense of imminent external danger; Calais resembles
a modernized Casablanca or other noir-ish setting where danger
lurks around every corner. The transfer does a solid job with
the image and avoids digital artifacts.
The stereo soundtrack has a good dynamic range that allows the two
channels to stretch out a bit. Subtle usage of sound effects and
music contribute to the film's canny creation of atmosphere.
As always, Film Movement pairs the feature with a short. Here,
we are treated to an odd and moving short subject from Germany titled
The Berlin Wall (15:21). A man who has lost his wife begins
rebuilding the wall in his yard, disconcerting his neighbors.
It's nice work from director Paul Cotter.
I will be sure to seek out Philippe
Lioret's other films. Welcome is a quiet, involving look
at an important contemporary issue through the eyes of rounded, convincing,
appealing characters. This is excellent work and I'm glad to
see that it's now available on Netflix Instant. Welcome
deserves to reach a broad audience. Highly Recommended.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.