REVIEW: DVD Release: Welcome

Film: Welcome
Release date: 22nd February 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 110 mins
Director: Philippe Lioret
Starring: Vincent Lindon, Firat Ayverdi, Audrey Dana
Genre: Drama
Studio: CineFile
Format: DVD
Country: France

So near and yet so far - this is the thesis behind Philipe Liaret’s drama Welcome, a sad tale of one young man’s quest to reach his Eldorado.

Bilal (Firat Ayverdi) is a 17-year-old Kurd who travels from his homeland Iraq to France. He wants to be reunited with his girlfriend Mina (Derya Ayverdi), who has recently emigrated to England but is faced with the final, but extremely daunting prospect of crossing the channel to reach her.

Bilal pays a smuggler 500 euros and is given a place in a lorry heading for England, along with some other Kurds, at the border. As a way to disguise their presence, the stowaways cover their heads with plastic bags in a hope of avoiding the CO2 detector. Bilal, haunted by a previous memory of incarceration, panics, and he is discovered, along with his frustrated and bitter travellers.

Knowing he will never be able to bear the crossing in the back of a lorry, Bilal decides to turn his attention to swimming, and this is where he meets Simone (Vincent Lindon). Simone is a middle-aged swimming instructor and a former professional swimmer who is quietly etching out his days alone. Bilal enlists the help of Simone, and works tirelessly in the pool to improve his technique and prepare himself for the challenge of a lifetime - the solo swim across the 25 mile stretch of channel that separates him and Mina...

What adds depth to the film is the duality of it. On the one hand, it is a story about romance, separation and regret. Both Bilal and Simone are separated from their loved ones, and they both seek to be reunited with them. Bilal’s drive and determination to literally scale the globe to reach Mina shames Simone, as he realises how easily he let Marion (Audrey Dana) go. On the other hand, the film deals with the hardships of being an illegal immigrant and the humiliation that these people have to face.

Philipe Liaret spent some time with illegal immigrants at the Calais border, and this certainly pays off in the film’s details. The border, where these refugees sleep, appears as more of a jungle in the film, with fighting and bartering the order of the day. They are without bathing facilities, and there is a good scene where a group of them try to gain entry into the local swimming baths so they can wash. We also meet the other elements to a refugee site, including the volunteers who selflessly hand out food on cold winter evenings, and the smuggler rackets trying to exploit these people.

The audience are made to feel the frustration of the refugees in Welcome as the police and local supermarkets harass and discriminate against them. There are measures to ensure that the locals do not aid the refugees in any way, and harsh punishments await any who disobey this. Simone is called to question on more than one occasion.

For a film dealing with such a serious and gritty topic, Liaret took a risk with the casting by not employing any professional Kurdish actors or actresses, Firat Ayverdi and Derya Ayverdi. Firat alone confirms that this was a risk worth taking, and comes across as extremely sincere but also vulnerable. Being able to pull off a leading role at such a young age makes Firat is one to watch out for in the future, and his role as Bilal is important to the plot and message of the film because it shows that mere children are embarking on the potentially perilous trip across the border. Derya Ayverdi is also brilliant as Mina, who puts real emotion into her role.

Vincent Lindon is also excellent as Simone. Lindon seems to have the ability to simply use a single gesture or movement in order to convey complex emotions. His interaction with Firat Ayverdi is first class also, and there is a definite chemistry between them both.

With top drawer performances, Welcome paints a sad but sympathetic picture of the lives of refugees, not afraid to explore beneath the surface. BR

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