Director: Philippe Lioret
Cast : Vincent Lindon, Firat Ayverdi, Audrey Dana
Genre : Drama
Country of Origin : France 2009
Language : French, Kurdish, Turkish with English subtitles and English 110 mins.
Rating : ****
'With UKIP joy, Tory jitters and recent press headlining immigration I revisited writer-director Philippe Lioret's Welcome, a compassionate and inspiring drama of the power of love and hope in new beginnings'.
17 year old Bilal (Firat Ayverdi), a 17 year old Kurd has spent three months illegally travelling from Mosul in Iraq to land in Calais on a bleak February afternoon in the hope of reuniting with his girlfriend Mina (Derya Ayverdi) whose family are in London and intend to marry her off to a rich cousin. After a failed attempt to reach England in a lorry, in desperation Bilal seeks help from Simon Calmat (Vincent Lindon), a middle aged swimming instructor at a public pool in Calais to learn how to swim the English Channel. Simon's life is in turmoil from an impending divorce from his wife, Marion (Audrey Dana), a social-conscious school teacher who helps run an outdoor soup kitchen for illegal immigrants and he reluctantly risks all by taking Bilal under his wing and treating him as his son. It's a revelation to see the full and often brutal force of French officialdom against the immigrants and French citizens who assist them.
Welcome is an engrossing, bold, compelling and emotionally affecting drama with naturalistic and moving lead performances from veteran actor,Vincent Lindon and newcomer, Firat Ayverd against a background of inflamed passions and a brutish mentality that's associated with mass migration. Bilal's failed attempt at crossing the Channel in a lorry only strengthens his resolve to be reunited with Mina by swimming the Channel - memories of imprisonment by the Turkish army for eight days prevented him from keeping a plastic bag over his head which illegals use to reduce carbon dioxide detection by border agency guards.
Welcome is a movie that brings to the fore the feeling of a siege mentality - it's them and us, neighbour informs on neighbour evoking memories of the treatment of French Jewish citizens not too many years ago. Predictably Welcome incurred the wrath of the French Immigration Minister but went on to win the Eucumenical Prize at Berlin, Best Film at the 2010 Lumiere Awards and was nominated for 10 Cesar Awards including Best Film and Best Director.
Calais with its view of the promised land and the use of lorries as the main means of crossing the channel doesn't make the headlines now but illegal immigration into the UK is still top of the political agenda and the problem refuses to go away. On January 26th a Pole in his 20s sailed from Papua New Guinea across shark infested waters on a homemade raft in the middle of a cyclone to try to get to Australia. Needless to say he didn't get far. On April 9th the body of a young man of African origin was found in the landing gear of a Camair-Co plane after it landed at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle - he'd frozen to death. On May 11th a German freezer lorry was searched at Watford Gap. Twelve illegal immigrants were found, ten from Iran, one from Syria and one from Afghanistan. They were arrested on suspicion of immigration offences.