Posts Tagged ‘Migrants’

The Border Fence (2018) **** IDFA 2018

Dir: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Austria | Doc | 112′

Brenner Pass, Alpine border, spring 2016: the Austrian government announces the construction of a border fence expecting a shift of the refugee routes to Italy after the Balkan route is closed. The Austrian residents seem to fear the fence as much as the influx of refugees to their homeland. Two years later, the fence is still rolled up in a container. History took another route.

This gave Austrian documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter reason enough to go to the region with his camera and explore the mood there. Surveillance and border fences have long been themes in his work (Abendland, 2011), along with the delicate balance between humans and their environment (Homo sapiens, 2016). What was originally seen as a welcome from Austria soon switched to a crisis that has swept through Europe like a forest wildfire. Everyone feels challenged to protect their homeland (or heimat, as the Austrians put it). “As the first refugees, we were impressed by the welcome culture of Austria. But at some point in the reporting a switch was put”. This subtle change meant that suddenly these people became unwanted. Europe’s solidarity during the world wars was finally put to the challenge.

A short conversation in the toll booth is one of the many absurd scenes in the film: border functionaries air their negative feelings about the ‘refugees’ and migration, while going about their duties solemnly dispensing a 9 euro toll ticket every 30 seconds. In the nearby hillside, two male hunters talk about their experience with refugees on the so-called ‘Green Brenner’ borderline during the winter months, and admit to feeling sorry for the scantily clad travellers who are totally unprepared for the climate and thick snow. These human encounters are often forgotten or buried in the abstract political discourse. Meanwhile the local police try to carry on with their commitments. It’s a thankless task and one that clearly compromises them, trapped between the humanistic angle and their duty to their country. There are no winners here. Everyone tries to put forward their opinions delicately without appearing racist. But the protesters are not silent. 

Elegantly framed and filmed in long takes, Geyrhalter remains the calm observer, distancing himself from the madding crowd, muting their anxiety and anger with placcid detachment, yet still retaining a humanistic feel. THE BORDER FENCE makes for a contemplative experience, allowing the audience space and time to process this European crisis. Geyrhalter’s documentary is a study in atavistic fear and human behaviour at its most base. And while many are vehemently opposed to the crackdown on migration, others feel threatened: “Be my guest – but don’t take over my home”.  MT


The Receptionist (2017) ***

Dir.: Jenny Lu; Cast: Shiang-chyi Chen, Fan Shixuan, Shuang Teng, Teresa Daley, Sophie Gopsill, Joshua Whitehouse, Stephen Pucci; UK/Taiwan 2016, 102 min.

Needs must when the Devil drives comes to mind in describing Jenny Lu’s grim but timely exploration of migrant’s shattered dreams dedicated to Anna, a woman from mainland China, whose life ended in tragedy after seeking a better life. 

Set mainly in a dingy ‘massage parlour’ near Heathrow and told from the perspective of Tina, the titular onlooker, The Receptionist pictures the lives of several young migrant workers in contemporary London.

Tina (Daley) and her boyfriend Frank (Whitehouse) are  graduates struggling to pay back their student grants and coping with the high rent of their miniscule flat. Tina’s job-seeking experiences are futile – who wants another literature graduate? When Frank is sacked, Tina takes the job she had rejected in the first place: receptionist to ‘Madame’ Lily (Gospsill), whose tawdry house near Heathrow Airport is the setting for this exploitation drama. When Tina arrives, Lily already has two sex-workers toiling for her: the mature, having-seen-it-all Sasa (Chen), and the the pixie-like Mei (Shixuan), who pretends that it’s all a game. At first, Tina is aloof – treating Sasa and Mei with contempt and grudgingly obeying Lily, who always finds new jobs for Tina – such as duct-taping the windows “ so that the neighbours cannot smell the sex”. But Tina prefers writing up her diary – an activity totally out of place given the setting. 

Relationships are complicated by Sam (Pucci) Madame Lily’s much younger ‘toy lover’, who not so secretly yearns for some “freebies”. When Anna (Teng), a woman in her mid-thirties arrives, Tina turns her allegiance to the sex workers, joins “their side” against her employer. Anna is a naive country girl and has no idea what she letting herself into. Her family has paid a huge sum of money so that she can work in the UK – and everybody back home relies on this financial support. She soon finds out from Sasa and Mei that abortions are not safe at all, even an anaesthetic is seen as a luxury. Unable to cope, Anna looses the will to live. The ending itself is poetic but never sentimental and cannot hide what has gone on before.

The director’s debut drama shows a passionate concern for her story and never lets up on realism, without resorting to explicit sex or nudity. DoP Gareth Munden captures the prison atmosphere with great flair and the ensemble acting is brilliant. Whilst there are some structural difficulties, The Receptionist is more than well-meaning, showing the fate of invisible women from another world being pushed to the margins and beyond. AS


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