Director & Screen-writer: Philippe Lioret
Cast:Vincent Lindon, Firat Ayverdi, Audrey Dana
This was, by far, the stand-out choice of my 2010 French Film Festival, and it is scheduled for general release.
Bilal (Firat Ayverdi), a 17-year-old Kurdish refugee, has spent three months travelling across Europe in an attempt to reunite with his girlfriend who recently emigrated with her family to England.
The opening sequence involves trying to hide in lorries at Calais without being detected. Some horrific shots involving bags over heads to avoid the build up of CO2 in the truck that is detectable by the polis. Documentary in texture, these scenes show the extent of the misery and the impossibility of Bilal's mission.
Desperate to arrive in England before Mina's father marries her off to a more fancied contender, Bilal devises a plan to swim across the bitterly cold waters of the Channel, and heads to the local swimming pool to improve his technique and build up his strength and endurance.
Here is where the script is brilliant, as it introduces drama, and humour and various forms of love and affection. Bilal meets Simon (Vincent Lindon), a middle-aged swimming instructor with a dejected spirit, who is privately reeling in turmoil as he contends with an imminent divorce from his wife (Audrey Dana). Against his character, Simon becomes involved wth Bilal and with the plight of refugees at Calais. His wife is a voluntary work on the soup kitchens that work around the port area which is legal. However, as soon as Simon assists Bilal on a personal individual basis, he is regarded as assisting an enemy alien.
A success in France, writer-director Philippe Lioret has created an absorbing story that speaks not only of the social issues impacting the movement of peoples from war zones to peace, from economic penury to at least having a chance, but the story addresses the unquenchable nature of the human spirit. The story is "authentic" (a much abused term in this country at the moment!) all the way through and does not wimp out at the end.
Much to our surprise, Lioret introduced this screening and stayed around for a Q&A afterwards. He discussed how he came to the elements of the story, and how he avoided not just a documentary voice, but also an overly melodramatic voice.