Thursday, February 03, 2011


A series on contemporary European cinema.

2) Welcome (France, 2009)

Bilal has an impossible plan.

Having reached Calais after a 3-month journey from war-torn Northern Iraq, the Man Utd-obessed refugee is desperate to cross the Channel and make it to London where his beloved girlfriend Mina has recently emigrated with her family.

After an aborted early attempt that was thwarted by the police, Bilal conjures up a strategy to defy the freezing waters and swim all the way to England.

Not being a fine swimmer, however, he realises that he's in need of some intensive training.

This is how he meets local swimming instructor Simon, (Vincent Lindon) a surly, middle-aged French geezer who's in the throes of divorce papers and major changes in his life.

As the training sessions continue and the two develop an unlikely bond, the story meets a major turning point when Bilal finds out that Mina is suddenly being forced to marry one of her cousins in London.

With the boy getting increasingly impatient and unsettled, Simon learns first-hand the intense prejudices and restrictions that illegal immigrants and asylum seekers endure, cue his hostile neighbour (whose doormat sports the word WELCOME in capital letters - oh the irony) grassing him up to he police for "aiding and abetting" illegal immigrants.

Directed and written by Philip Lioret, Welcome's intensity is not always easy to digest and the drama and anguish of its final moments may prove too much for some people to take.

Yet, the film's gentle and minimalistic script and its touching tale of determination and humanity will make you feel grateful for allowing you into its world - a world that too many people refuse to acknowledge, blinded as they are by xenophobia and the convenient refusal to accept that some people are desperate and will do anything to escape war, poverty and devastation.

An extraordinary story that will stay with you for days.

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