Review By Frances Winston
Directed by: Ben Sharrock – Starring: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai. Ola Orebiyi. Kwabena Ansah. Kenneth Collard, Kais Nashef, Sidse Babett Knudsen
In cinemas now!
Usually films about the refugee experience tend to focus on atrocities (such as 2017’s First They Killed My Father) or else they take the experience and use it as a metaphor, such as The Cured (which was a zombie ‘horror movie’ that may as well have been called “an observation on Direct Provision”).
However, they don’t usually deal with the day to day mundanities of being a refugee, just waiting to have your asylum approved. I imagine it doesn’t seem as dramatic as the circumstances that landed people in this situation in the first place.
However, Sharrock proves that this is not the case, in this wonderful tale of a group of asylum seekers ekeing out their days, on an impossibly bleak and starkly beautiful Scottish island (it could almost be straight out of a Beckett play) while they await confirmation of their UK residency. Or not. Unable to work, they spend their days watching Friends reruns, and learning English, while bonding over their hopes and dreams for a better future.
There is Farhad (Bhai), a Freddie Mercury super-fan, from Afghanistan. Abedi (Ansah) and Wasef (Orebiyi), brothers from Nigeria, who are always quarrelling. Wasf dreams of playing number 11 for Chelsea Football Club – the fact that he can’t really play football, and is a bit too old to be starting out in the profession, is of no consequence. There is Omar (El-Masry) who has left Syria with his family, who are now scattered across the globe. A performer in his homeland, he carries around his oud (a stringed instrument) in its case as Farhad says, like a coffin for his soul.
These disparate personalities try to get on with things, and focus on their new lives, while trying to retain their cultural identity, and adapt to the changes, not just in their circumstances, but also their climate, as they wait for coats to arrive into the donation centre they are forced to rely on.
At times, it feels like there is not much happening here – which is its subtle brilliance, because it perfectly captures the tedium of being Stateless, and having your fate in someone else’s hands, when all you can do is wait to hear if you will have a future in this new country.
Gentle and intimate, with brilliant performances, this is one of the most powerful movies about the refugee experience, simply because it focuses on the human condition of being an asylum seeker, rather than the events which led them here.