Monday, February 20, 2012

"Illegal" is an important drama about immigration policy in Europe; the short "Rita" is indeed daring


Most of the time when we hear discussions of immigration policy in the US, we think of Mexico and maybe Latin America. For Europe, we’ve gotten used to thinking about the cultural wars associated with heavy Muslim immigration.

But the Belgian drama “Illegal”, from Film Movement, by director Olivier Masset-Depasse (2010), presents us with Tania (Anne Coesens) as a Russian living with the tween son Ivan (Alexandre Colntcharov) living illegally in Belgium (Tania has been denied legal residence). Tania fears separation from her son.   She burns her fingertips and falsifies an application for health insurance. She advises her friend  Zina (Olga Zhdanova) to apply for asylum from Belarus.    One day Tania is arrested by cops on the street and thrown into detention.  She works as a maid in detention to have the chance to call her son.  She takes over Zina’s identity and gets caught playing the “Dublin Trick” and is told she (Zina) had also applied for asylum from Poland.

The government tries to deport Tania to Poland.  The cops treat her roughly on the plane, and the passengers revolt, filming the police on cell phones, despite the protestations of police (a well known issue in the US). The captain, fearing for safety, orders the cops and Tania off the plane (again, an airline security issue well known in the US with the TSA), and she gets to stay and reunite with her son, however battered.

The film has been hailed as critical of Belgium’s immigration enforcement as among the toughest in Europe.  Although Belgian police objected, the country tried to get the film nominated as best foreign language film for 2009.

The film (1.85:1) is shot with a lot of closes-ups and hand-held cameras, in Dogme style, and has a “Lars van Trier” feel.

The official site in France is here  (Haut et court films).


With Film Movement, the “short film of the month” is always a mystery, but this time it’s a very curious entry indeed, “Rita”, from Italy, directors Fabio Grassadonie and Antonio Piazza.

The 18 minute film presents us with a blind 10-year-old girl, Rita (Marta Palermo).  Her overprotective mother (not shown but heard), after lecturing her again, says she has to run an errand to the haberdashery.  While the mother leaves her alone (maybe illegal in the US), a young man (Marco Correnti) breaks into the house , apparently looking for cash or jewelry.  When he sees her, he suddenly feels compassion, touches her on the face very gently, and encourages her to go outside with him, for the first taste of freedom in her whole life.  The notes refer to him as a “boy”, but on the beach it becomes visually apparent he is a grown young man.  She cannot see him, of course, creating a curious artistic concept.  They start talking about learning to swim.  He encourages her to wade into the ocean, to moderate depth, perhaps chest high.  He then swims away and leaves her, to learn to swim for herself.

The images of the girl might be "illegal" in some states in the US. 

The film is shot 2.35:1.  That seems unnecessary, as for much of the early part of the film the camera is focused only on her face. 

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