Though not a documentary, Michael Winterbottom's searing drama uses a highly realistic technique to explore an all-too-real problem: The plight of refugees who risk their savings and, often, their lives seeking asylum in the West. Sixteen-year-old Jamal (Jamal Udin Torabi) and his older cousin, Enayat (Enayatullah), are just two of the approximately 53,000 Afghan refugees now living in Pakistan's camps and cities, displaced when their families fled first the Soviet invasion of 1979, then the U.S. bombing in 2001. Jamal and Enayat's uncle, Wakeel (Wakeel Kahn), knows there's no future for his nephews in Pakistan — Enayat works at the family's fruit stall in Peshawar while the orphaned Jamal lives in the nearby Shamshatoo refugee camp and earns less than $1 a day at a brick factory — and so arranges to send the cousins to London. Unable to afford airfare, Wakeel pays a stranger a stack of rupees and dollars to sneak Enayat and Jamal across Pakistan and into Iran. From Tehran, they'll move north through Kurdistan, cross the mountains into Turkey, then stow away in a cargo container aboard a freighter bound for Italy. Once in Europe, Enayat and Jamal will then make their way to the northern French town of Sangatte, close to the final stretch of their long, arduous journey: the Channel Tunnel. This perilous trek has cost may illegal emigrants their lives; armed soldiers, border patrols and various unscrupulous "fixers" paid to transport Enayat and Jamal from point to point are only the start of their worries. Based on a series of interviews with actual refugees and shot on digital video, using only available light and a cast of non-professionals, the amazingly prolific Winterbottom uses documentary trappings to create a heightened sense of immediacy. The resulting film powerfully conveys the alternately terrifying and tedious experience undergone by nearly one million refugees to date. Winterbottom's story ends, however, without the cruel upshot of so many of these real-life journeys: The cool, even violent, reception refugees receive in their new homelands.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: R
- Review: Though not a documentary, Michael Winterbottom's searing drama uses a highly realistic technique to explore an all-too-real problem: The plight of refugees who risk their savings and, often, their lives seeking asylum in the West. Sixteen-year-old Jamal (J… (more)