by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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Welcome is such a stirring movie that I became so caught up in it. But I expect that from Film Movement offerings, because they are always so entertaining.
Welcome is a story about true love and isolation, all in the midst of political persecution, as Bilal, a 17-year-old Kurdish refugee finds himself in France, running from the law and trying to get to his girlfriend in London. He’s been all over Europe, not knowing that his girlfriend’s father would rather he didn’t come knocking on their door. Her family has recently emigrated to London, and they are doing as well as they can under the circumstances.
But he first has to figure out a way of safe passage, after he’s unable to endure passage in the underbelly of a truck. Bilal befriends Simon, a swimming coach who just happens to also be a former swimming champion. He figures he can teach Bilal how to swim from Calais, which is on the French side of the English Channel, to London, which is about a 10-hour swim away.
Simon is estranged from his wife, and the divorce is imminent. But his wife warns him not to harbor Bilal, because it’s against the law. His wife helps immigrants, but she believes what Simon is doing is too risky. But he thinks his generosity will win his wife’s affection. The authorities get wind of Simon helping Bilal and his friend, after they see his car down at a favorite spot where the refugees come to be fed. His neighbors also complain and even accuse the two of them of having a homosexual affair. Simon gets over yet another interrogation, as the relationship he’s forged with Bilal is too involved now for either to pull back.
Simon lets Bilal call his girlfriend from his cell phone, and even gives the ring that his wife lost in the sofa cushions to Bilal to give to his future bride. But Bilal doesn’t understand that while he’s trying to get to London, his girlfriend’s father has arranged for her to be married. Now, it’s him against the clock in learning how to swim expertly enough to make it across the Channel.
Welcome is a great film by Philippe Lioret and was a winner at the Berlin International Film Festival. The Director is quoted as saying, “Welcome came from a strong desire to make a film about this particular subject and no other. About guys who, fleeing their homelands in distress, want at all costs to reach the Eldorado, which to their eyes is England. Yet, after an improbable journey, they find themselves stuck in Calais—frustrated, ill treated and humiliated—just a few kilometers from the English coastline that they can actually see from where they are.”
Welcome is followed on the DVD by this month’s Film Movement short called “The Berlin Wall,” which is a poignant tale of 75-year-old Werner who recently lost his wife and ventures out his front door in an effort—brick by brick—to rebuild the Berlin Wall. His project brings “stirring, fervent reactions from the neighboring suburbanites, refugees, children and police.”
About Film Movement:
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.
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