Welcome


Directed by: Philippe Lioret
Written by:Philippe Lioret, Emmanuel Courcol, Olivier Adam
Starring: Vincent Lindon, Firat Ayverdi, Audrey Dana, Derya Ayverdi, Thierry Godard, Selim Akgul
Released: April 1, 2010
Grade: A-

The French Film Festival has just wrapped up for another year in Brisbane.  One of its highly promoted films was Welcome and it’s now getting a small cinematic release across Australia.  It was nominated for 10 Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscars) including best picture.  It lost the top prize to A Prophet.

What struck me most about Welcome is that it will generate discussion about immigration.  It’s about a 17-year-old teenager named Bilal (Ayverdi) who set out from his home in Iraq and has now made his way to Calais, a small coastal town in Northern France.  It’s here where you can catch the ferry across the famous channel and set foot in England.

Bilal is trying to get to London so that he can be reunited with his girlfriend and start a soccer career with Manchester United.  Lofty dreams indeed.  The problem is that he’s an illegal alien.  He sneaks onboard a truck which is to be ferried across the channel but he is caught and detained.  The court doesn’t send him back home to Iraq but doesn’t do much else to help him.  He’s stuck in limbo.

Bilal decides his only option is to swim the English Channel.  At the local indoor swimming pool he meets an instructor named Simon (Lindon) who agrees to give him lessons.  Simon is coming off a divorce and seems to be looking for direction with his life.  The friendship he forges with Bilal is a valuable one.  Simon knows that helping this kid is illegal but it's something he must do.  He wants to see Bilal make it to London and start a new life.

There’s a lot more to the story but that’s the best summary I can come up with.  If you look at this film from a dramatic perspective, it’s quite a good one.  The performances are strong and it builds to an emotional climax.  My only qualm would be that the relationship between Simon and his ex-wife was underdeveloped.  She’s a key character and perhaps more interesting than Bilal himself.

From a political perspective, the film is not subtle with its commentary on immigration policies of many countries.  I know filmmakers can use the medium of cinema to push their agendas but I found this a little too “black and white”.  The other side of this story seemed to get brushed aside.

That said, I am glad that films like this are made.  They generate discussion and this one in particular has left me with much to think about.