Synopsis from the box cover
Immigration stirs the very foundation of our country with many people taking one side or another, depending on what axe they have to grind. On the one hand, we want cheap labor but we don't want the responsibilities that come with such help and on the other hand we want to protect our culture and way of life from outsiders, forgetting our former status as a "melting pot". The issue has been around since the beginning of time and there are no quick and easy solutions. I live in Houston, which is full of (legal and illegal) immigrants, counting some as my close friends so I know both sides of the issue. The movie takes a look at a situation in France that developed after the country passed a law in 1974. It was designed to allow families to reunite, having allowed workers to come into the country on a semi-permanent basis for decades, and like any other controversial law, it was not all smooth sailing.
The director of the movie, Yamina Benguigui, was born into an unusual situation. She lived in France but had an Algerian background. During the turbulent 60's and 70's, there was a lot of pressure for France to allow for the Algerian community living inside it's borders to assimilate and there was a concurrent movement for women's rights. She was caught up in both and learned quite young that to effect change, she'd have to present her side of the story in personal terms so that people from other cultures could understand why she was fighting the good fight, even though she was different from them. This movie was another of her attempts to explain what happened, basing it very much on her own experiences as a child.
The main character is a woman by the name of Zouina (Fejria Deliba) who is brought to France to rejoin her husband. She takes her three small children with her in hopes of a better life, consciously acknowledging that she'll be giving up what has amounted to her whole world up until that point. Her mother wails at her leaving and her mother-in-law berates her for looking back, telling her to think of the children. Upon arrival in a small French town with no organized Algerian community (in order to maintain her customs and sense of self), she is immediately looked down upon by the nosy neighbors, her mother-in-law and just about everyone else, with a few exceptions. The movie details the culture shock that ensues, in a realistic manner, not the typical comedy fashion (although there was a lot of humor, this is a darker look at cultural clashes) most people are used to seeing in a movie.
The themes here are driven by factors that are universal in nature. We all want to belong to a group we identify with and we hold our beliefs to be sacred, regardless of their roots, because they are a large part of what makes us unique. As Zouina continues through life, not knowing exactly where the boundaries of her life are at any given moment (her faith demands that she be obedient to her husband but the culture pushes her against that routinely), she learns to face up to the fact that she is completely out of her element, not even speaking enough French to allow her the freedom she seems to crave. Her mother-in-law makes it clear that Zouina is not worthy of her son and verbally attacks her at any chance to keep her down. The interplay between these two characters drives much of the film and both actresses were highly talented, making us see what they see, inside the narrow confines of the movie.
Okay, I liked the movie but will you, the reader, enjoy it as well? That'll depend on what type of movie you enjoy. If you're looking for car chases, gun battles and a shallow movie to half watch, this will not be for you. If you're looking for a thoughtful look at one person's view on immigration from the perspective of the immigrant, you'll find this a dark but interesting film to watch. There were a few moments where the director seemed to whitewash a few matters but overall, I think she was exceptionally good at explaining the major issues of the problem without resorting to a boring documentary style of story telling. For those looking for a film with a lot of depth, you've come to the right place. I'm rating it as Highly Recommended based on the content as much as the DVD itself.
Picture: The picture was presented in non-anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1 ratio color as originally shot. Much of it was shot from a handheld camera by the looks of the composition but that lent a more personal touch to the movie. There was some grain in a few darker scenes and the contrast was slightly off in other scenes but the overall nature of the picture was multi-layered and well designed to tell the story on a different level by the visuals alone. I noticed no compression artifacts but there did appear to be some slight edge enhancement to the show at times.
Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 stereo Arabic and French with optional English subtitles. The vocals and music were mixed with care and each displayed a fair amount of clarity. There wasn't a lot of separation between the channels but the overall audio track was well done.
Extras: The best extra was the short film, Black Rider by Pepe Danquart. The Black & White film lasted 12 minutes long and detailed a bus ride by a Black man who sits beside an elderly White racist in Germany. It was short and funny, summing up the perspective of an immigrant as effectively as any longer film could've done. The extras also included a great paper insert that detailed a bit of biography for the director, cast credits and some of the awards the release has won (the short even won an Academy Award). The DVD also had a trailer for the feature and the following month's release, Out Town, and some biographies of the cast and crew.
Final Thoughts: Immigration affects all of us in one way or another, no matter where you live or work. If this movie can spur some thoughtful discussion on the matter, it will have done us all a great service. I'm not sure if I agree with all the conclusions the director came to but I can appreciate that she walked the walk and now talks the talk to the extent that she could so readily outline many of the issues that impact us all. The technical matters were pretty solid and the extras good enough to recommend you check them out as well in this splendid release by Film Movement.