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I am a judge for the Indianapolis-based Heartland Film Festival. This
feature film is a Crystal Heart Award Winner and is eligible to be the
Grand Prize Winner in October of 2009. The Heartland Film Festival is a
non-profit that honors Truly Moving Pictures. A Truly Moving Picture
explores the human journey by artistically expressing hope and
respect for the positive values of life."
Bilal is a 17 year-old Kurdish boy from Iraq, who has just taken an arduous, three-month journey to Calais in France desperately trying to get to his girlfriend/fiancée in London. But in Calais he becomes stuck with many other clan-destines or illegal immigrants. These are people without a country. The French won't send them back to the Mid-East because there is a war going on. But they are not welcomed in France because they are clearly illegals. Even the local French people will violate French law if they help these clan-destines.
With this backdrop, Bilal comes up with the idea that he can swim the English Channel to get to his girlfriend. There is only one problem. He can't swim. He goes to a middle-aged French swim instructor, Simon, who not only teaches him how to swim, but also befriends him. Simon has his own problems. He is divorcing his wife and is terribly lonely. Bilal and Simon need each other and form a strangely beautiful symbiotic relationship.
This is a quiet and powerful statement on the individual courage and sacrifice of normal human beings. Bilal and Simon are single-minded in trying to do the right thing and will not be put off their objective. This is a very moving film that haunts you afterwords. It does not take a stand on legal or illegal immigration. It merely shows that these clan-destines are human like the rest of us and have their own stories.
FYI There is a Truly Moving Pictures web site where there is a listing of past Truly Moving Picture Award winners that are now either at the theater or available on video.
An outstanding film! The history is very believable, the life of clandestine as in documentary, a very responsible cinema! And the actors all are excellent! It is sometimes necessary, in our small comfortable life and our well arranged existences, to receive a shock, and that's what came to arrive with shocking film of P.Lioret, which tackles the current and extreme problem of the clandestine. Under terrible conditions, they are ready to risk their being, hoping to create a better future. In addition to the fact that this history is inspired of an actual reality, one can only accept these characters: The swimming coach, splendid in his role; an ordinary man, monopolized in the beginning of the film by his sentimental problems, also by love for the woman who has left him, will take the risk to help in secrecy a young Kurdish refugee, which wants to cross the English Channel by swim. The total lack of humanity from governmental organizations, certainly reduced a little by work of voluntary NGOs, put us vis-à-vis intolerable and unbearable situation that had been forgotten in the West. So I say Merci to Mr. Lioret for this original and humanist film!
The noun's meaning: a cordial greeting or hospitable reception given
upon arrival; as well as its verb and adjective are horribly absent in
The crossing of the Channel is a treacherous endeavor for asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. The Channel Passers charge an arm and a leg (with little to no regards for safety conditions) for their clandestine operations. If caught asylum seekers and illegal immigrants are processed, tried, and sentenced to a life in limbo.
Their status allows them to stay in Calais but they are unwelcome and not allowed crossover to the Promised Land. Social workers are kept under careful watch and harassed by the authorities.
It is illegal to welcome an asylum seeker in your home. Jail time is awarded to good souls.
From Calais; when the fog clears, you can catch a glimpse the white cliffs of Dover: 34 km of rough waters to reach the Promised Land. By boat it takes 35 minutes to cross the Channel. By swimming the world record was set at 6 hours and 57 minutes by a professional swimmer.
After traveling over 3000 km; from Iraq to France, Bilal; a Kurdish refugee, will attempt to crossover the Channel, by any means necessary.
This is a beautiful but devastating movie that will haunt your nights and dog your days.
Simply put: it is a must.
After watching this movie in an almost desert movie theatre I was overwhelmed by sadness, but after reflecting upon it, I could discover very positive feelings and a very interesting view of the theme handled. What I liked most is the idea of intertwining the story of human solidarity between Bilal and Simon with the also deep relationship between Simon and his wife Marion. I intended the movie truly thought-provoking in the way it manages to make one reflect on the concept of the "other", who is not only the distant, unknown one, and on the idea that human solidarity begins with those who live with us or near us day after day. Marion is so animated by the need to help the poor, abandoned clandestines, that she has in turn completely abandoned, physically and psychologically, her husband, to the point of being no longer able to see his truly loving soul. And the sad, moving and intense story between Bilal and Simon will help both to understand the value of human affection, which starts from the nearest ones, leading naturally to the furthest ones. I think this is a very interesting perspective, which goes beyond social denunciation and void criticism of institutions, because it appeals to the conscience of the single man and woman and seems to ask him/her: how much are you ready, in first person, to give to others, to go beyond selfish needs, how much are you able to sympathize with anyone, where anyone is a member of your family, as well as the "anyone" you may meet on the journey of your life? The cast, above all Vincent Lindon and Audrey Dana, are extraordinarily good in the way they manage to speak with conciseness and naturalness to the heart of the viewer. It is a movie which makes one reflect deeply on the reality of the clandestines (with which each European citizen and authority have to come to terms daily, without often finding certain and respectful attitudes) but more deeply on the very essence of human affection. A must see.
In Philippe Lioret's latest film Welcome the title is obviously a
contradiction, but the meaning of the contradiction itself is just as
obvious. It's about illegal aliens in Europe, in this specific film
narrowed down to Calais in France. And they are certainly not welcome.
Pic holds an unsettling tone throughout. While story lines tend to diverge, it's reminiscent of Ulrich Seidl's Import/Export in that it tells a story about people in motion in contemporary Europe. People whose conditions were bad from their take-off point, but becomes nonexistent in the grand, boarder-less EU. The limitations with this modern refugee policy of EU is that it only benefits our own. This is all old news for Lioret's protagonist Bilal (Firat Ayverdi) who comes from war-torn Iraq. His journey to Calais where the story begins has been long and painful, and the way to his love in London seems to stretch far beyond the horizon for the seventeen year old refugee.
These are harsh times, Lioret proclaims through images of a port district infested with immigrants, battering cops and even authorities that manifest a despicable manner not only towards refugees but just as well to people trying to help them. One of them is Simon (Vincent Lindon), a disgraced ex-champion in swimming. He seeks atonement in Bilal for his previous mistakes in life and the two becomes committed to each other. But in these harsh times nothing is certain and struggle lays ahead for both of them.
Philippe Lioret covers pretty much the whole lot of it. Each of his characters carries around on fear, despair, desires, love, longings and struggle. It is classic ingredients taken from the ordinary lives of those immigrants. In Welcome, however, it blends well with the non-immigrants as well. It is something they have to live with constantly, but something that is exposed to us at times as well. It is indeed an unpleasant take on modern refugee policy, but it is nevertheless a necessary take.
Illegal immigration is the subject of this ironically titled film. But
whatever generalizations it has to make are embodied in beautifully
realized and touching characters and a specific story, which combines
one of France's ablest and most experienced actors, Vincent Lindon,
with a young Kurdish newcomer, Firat Ayverdi. Ayverdi plays the role of
Bilal, a 17-year-old Iraq-born Kurd who needs to get from France to
England to meet his sweetheart.
Welcome begins with an intense focus on the border crossers Bilal is with. He has come a long way on his own, hanging under railway cars. Here he learns that won't work because the trains go too fast. He has to pay a handler to be hidden with others in a cargo truck. Images of the border lit up at night at the huge interchange near Calais, with dozens of huge cargo trucks slowly moving back and forth, are both beautiful and terrifying, reminiscent of the opening sequence of Arnaud des Pallières' Adieu. The sense of being at the mercy of vast forces is overwhelming. The cargo truck escape attempt fails both for Bilal and for the group of other young Kurds with him because Bilal can't stand to keep a plastic bag over his head during the customs inspection to avoid setting off the carbon dioxide detectors. He's held and released in Calais with the others, in legal limbo, with nowhere to stay, caught in the "jungle" of other illegals hoping to get to England.
Bilal, we gradually learn, is an excellent athlete and has now decided to try to go it alone and swim the channel. He begins visiting the municipal swimming pool, where he pays Simon (Lindon), a swim coach, to teach him how to do the crawl and train for a long swim. Their interchanges are made rough and simple by the fact that Bilal speaks no French and Simon's English is limited. Simon is lonely and stressed out because his wife Marion (a soulful Audrey Dana) has left him. He also feels useless because a promising career as a competitive swimmer stopped short years ago, leaving him with this mediocre job. Locally the immigrants wandering in legal limbo are looked down on, and you can get harassed by police and subject to legal action for in any way helping them. There is an executive officer in the local constabulary specifically charged with seeing that these rules are enforced. Simon shares the general indifference to the young illegals' plight, but takes a liking to the bright-eyed, highly motivated Bilal, and soon realizes what his training goal is.
Marion runs an on-the-street soup kitchen that helps the illegals. She obviously sympathizes with them and for doing so is harassed by cops herself. After taking in Bilal and a friend for a night early on, Simon gradually warms to their plight and also realizes that his actions may make Marion look on him more favorably. He is soon hassled by police due to a nasty neighbor who rats on him. But this only strengthens his resolve to help the boy and draws them closer. Meanwhile Lioret seamlessly deepens our understanding of Bilal with a swift succession of understated scenes. The youth was a soccer champion and runner back home and dreams of trying out for Manchester United. His girlfriend Mina (Derya Ayverdi) is with her family in London, who are in the restaurant business. Her father disapproves of her relationship with Bilal and an arranged marriage with somebody else is in the offing. Simon continues to be impressed by Bilal's single-minded devotion. Bilal and Mina are like Romeo and Juliet, separated by the English Channel.
Bilal is making great progress in the pool, but his situation otherwise continues to be extremely dicey. Mina can rarely speak to him on the phone and he's mostly on the street with other Kurds, one of whom is out to get him for causing them to be caught in the truck. Things get better between Marion and Simon but more and more urgent for Bilal, who's now trying longer swims in the Channel itself wearing a wet suit. News comes that Mina is to be married off shortly. She sends a despairing message to Bilal that it's hopeless and he should not try to come. It's winter and Simon urges him not to try now, that it's too dangerous, and he should seek a way to remain in France legally. Lindon is typically subtle and convincing as a man in crisis drawn out of himself. Firat Ayverdi is an understated player with a strong natural presence.
The final scenes of Welcome are deeply touching. I never thought seeing Manchester United on a TV screen could make me cry. This is a strong, vivid little film that tells its story with deft strokes and authentic atmosphere. The ideas of swimming the Channel, the star-crossed lovers, and the emotionally stressed grown-up who finds a sense of values through a youth are simple and standard enough, but Lioret's film-making and the acting are so good it all works, and the script by Lioret, Olivier Adam and Emmanuel Courcol is idiomatic and natural. The injustice and confusion of immigration policies are made extremely clear without ever resorting to a single moment of generalization.
Welcome opened in Paris on March 11, 2009 to universal critical acclaim. Its critics rating on Allociné is 3.3 with a score of 88 points. The film won the Lumière Award for Best film; one César nomination (Best Cinematography) and two awards at Berlin. It was shown in March 2010 as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, the series sponsored jointly by uniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and shown to the public at the Walter Reade Theater and the IFC Center, New York. Lioret's previous film, Don't Worry, I'm Fine/Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas, was included in the Rendez-Vous series in 2007.
Rightly so, Lioret's film 'Welcome' confronts us with a changing Europe, from one which used to be tolerant to the less-fortunate into one dominated by fear, exclusion and self-righteousness. The anonymous setting of the port of Calais - exchangeable with Dover, Bari or Tarifa or any other border town in Europe and the hauntingly introvert piano score add to the growing hostilities towards refugees in Europe. The two main characters are, each in their own way, equally tragic: Bilal, a 17-year-old refugee from Kurdistan, in desperately pursuing an impossible dream, and Simon, a disappointed middle-aged French swimming instructor, in not being able to cling onto that dream. The friendship and the actual drama begin when they first meet in a local pool. So far so good. Regrettably, and perhaps regrettably, Lioret diminishes the intensity of this relationship by wanting to provide too many answers to too many irrelevant questions. The result is that story lines, actions and ultimately even the characters become blurred and incredible, which is a great sorrow to inflict on a topic of this social magnitude. One only wishes a little more Dardenne-style type of filming in this film! The strength of 'Welcome' is that is requires us to reconsider to what extent we are willing to be human, social and forgiving towards 'the other' in an ever-harshening world. By examining the attitudes of the shop manager, the neighbour and the bureaucrat, we are eventually confronted with ourselves. 'Welcome' is certainly not an easy film but a highly desirable one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 2008 a young man named Bilal (Firat Ayverdi) has come to France as
an illegal immigrant from war torn Iraq. His plan is to sneak into
England so that he can visit the girl that he loves. Their
communication is limited though because he can only ring her at home
when she is amongst her strict father. His first attempt to sneak into
the UK is a failure. Hiding amidst the floor of a truck with a number
of other immigrants, Bilal is personally responsible for the guards
uncovering them. Set before a judge, he is warned not to be caught
trying to sneak in again and is not even granted access to a hostel to
stay in. Living off food drives on the street, his plan is to become a
great swimmer and surpass the English Channel by himself. He visits the
local swimming pool where he meets Simon (Vincent Lindon), a grizzled
swimming coach who has a delicate relationship with his wife as they
prepare to separate. Bilal is an initially incompetent swimmer but as
he takes up lessons from Simon his plan and his persistence become more
apparent. Simon is initially skeptical because he knows the conditions
of the Channel but he gradually becomes more sympathetic to the boys
cause and invites him into his home.
The title of Philippe Lioret's touching film is an ironic one as this is an openly critical view of France's current immigration policy, where it is against the law for French citizens to help illegal immigrants. Severe fines and stints in gaol are expected for those that shelter these supposed aliens. Lioret was not even able to employ the immigrants on the streets when he was shooting the film for fear of being penalised. In an unprecedented move, his film was shown before The French Parliament in a bid to try and change the law. Given the conservatism of the Sarkozy government, rather than any fault of the film though, the laws remained unchanged. France's foreign relations have also been tests recently with the proposal of banning all Islamic veils. Given the controversy surrounding these issues, Welcome could be one of the most timely and significant films of the year. Simply but elegantly photographed by Lioret and his cinematographer, the film is continually tense and daring in its subject matter. The film's most confronting scene comes early on, demonstrating the lengths and the dangers the immigrants face. Stuck deep in a semitrailer, Bigal and others must each place a plastic bag over their heads so that the border guards cannot read the c02 levels and detect them inside. The high degree of verisimilitude in this scene and the tragedy, with which it ends, visualises this moment as a reality of the consequences faced by immigrants in their bid for a better life. The visualisation of French police searching homes without a warrant and the discussion of them using tear gas to remove migrants off the streets reminds us of the injustice and Lioret's uncompromising criticism of the government.
Adding to the realism of the film are the two central, naturalistic performances. Lindon has the look of a tough, worn man and only occasionally do we see the anger burst out of him but it is fierce enough to suggest why he is so isolated from his wife and the people around him. His character's relationship with Bilal is a significant portion of the narrative and it makes sense because he sympathises with his efforts to reach the girl. It is exactly what Simon himself cannot do for his wife and he even tells her that this boy is willing to travel across the world for someone, whereas he cannot even cross the road to reach out to her. In his film debut, Ayverdi is exceptionally good too. He is shy and quiet for most of the film but the script allows him to add a mixture of naivety and optimism, persistence, courage and stupidity to his characterisation. The film is indeed over-extended, even at just under two hours, but given the sincerity of the nuanced performances though the climax is still at least quite moving in its tragedy.
Welcome is a fine example of how a film can not only be entertaining but also informative and perhaps influential. It is buoyed by its strong performances and its high intensity. More significantly though, those that do not know what France's policies are will be shocked by what is defined in this film. The way that Lioret has grounded the film with a strong attention to realism may indeed persuade audiences to question the lack of empathy shown to immigrants, not only by the French government specifically, but by their own as well. Lioret makes no excuses for where his politics stand with this film and it makes for highly challenging and engrossing cinema.
"I knew a boy who tried to swim across the lake, It's a hell of a thing
to do, They say the lake is as big as the ocean, I wonder If he knew
about it" (Yoko Ono,lyrics slightly modified)
Lioret is one of the most promising French directors .His "Je Vais Bien Ne T'En Fais Pas " deeply moved the crowds .His "welcome" is at least as good,as harrowing and as...pessimistic , noir as his precedent effort.
He chose the right actor as the lifeguard :Vincent Lindon was perhaps never better in his part of a disoriented man ,estranged from his wife , in search of the meaning of his life .With his weary face ,his disenchanted looks ,he seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders .Which he does ,in a way.
France ,par excellence the country of refuge (particularly political refugees),is shown in a less-than-flattering light than usual;on the other hand ,one can wonder whether the United Kingdom is really the promised land as it appears in the film.In Calais ,people who gave a shelter to illegal migrants were actually troubled by the Police .Although this is not a true story,all that happens to the lifeguard is credible.
Images of Police vans,of sad beaches ,of free meals ,of informers (the neighbor claims that Simon helps the young Kurd in return for sexual relations!)
The divorced hero has become a cliché;but Lioret makes brilliant use of the screenplay cliché: it's perhaps because Simon has become a lonely man that he takes in his young protégé (one should note he's got no children whereas he is in his fifties ).Simon is ready to give all: his reputation ("yes I'm a gay,I sleep with him ,and I sleep with guys that's why my wife walks out on me" ),his dear treasures (his gold medal:"I gave him" ),and maybe even his job .
To swim across the Channel to get to your girlfriend Mina is an impossible task when you are 17 and you're not a first class swimmer.It's the young man's dream and Simon makes his dream his.
"Welcome" is a great movie,one of the best French movies of the last ten years.
When the Kurdish boy Bilal, on the run from war-torn Iraq, is caught trying to cross the border into Englad, he ends up stranding in Calais. Here he meets Simon(in the process of divorcing his wife), who is as taken aback by the 17-year-old's sheer determination to meet back up with his girlfriend, Mira, in London as we are, and agrees to teach him how to swim. Yes, this kid wants to cross the channel. This is about love, the criminalization of refugees and people fighting against seemingly impossible odds. I have yet to watch anything else by this director, but now I will be on the lookout for it. He correctly realizes that this story is powerful enough, and thus does not need any manipulation for us to be deeply affected by it. Everything in this is underplayed, merely showed, and it is absolutely heartbreaking. The music is minimal(that, or it was so subtle that I did not notice it most of the time) and subtle, with only a single use of a tense piece(and it was still not overbearing). Other than that, it consists of a soft, sad piano, a sort of "voice" to the helplessness of the situation. While the young couple are seldom granted even direct communication(it tends to be second-hand), we believe in their deep feelings for one another. The acting is excellent all the way, and the characters are well-written, and like everything else in this, credible. Granted, this only really shows one side to the argument... still, no one in this feels "evil". Another great thing, and one that also helps it be more removed from Hollywood, is that everyone speaks the language that makes sense for the situation. Their native tongue, or English if they're talking to someone who won't otherwise understand them. There is a little sensuality, moderate violence and disturbing content in this. I recommend this to everyone who can comprehend it(maybe no one under 11). 8/10
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