IN THIS WORLD
In Peshawar, the family of young Afghani cousins Jamal (Jamal Udin Torabi) and Enat (Enayatullah) bribe people smugglers to send the two boys to London for a better life. From Shamshatoo refugee camp in the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan, just across the border, the youngsters take the cheap overland route, in trucks and on foot, across Tehran to Iran and through Turkey. From Istanbul, the boys, along with other refugees, are locked into a ship’s container heading for Trieste. Some don’t survive the 40 hour sea trip, before the final leg across Europe to the refugee camp at Sangett in northern France, and finally hiding on the Eurostar to London.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Michael Winterbottom’s sincere and admirable intentions are to show the world the dangers and the awful conditions of those desperate enough to leave their homeland illegally and bribe their way to a new life in the West. His compassion sticks out like a shining broadsword, and his big hearted, physically demanding film will no doubt be seen by all the wrong people: that is, the converted – those who align themselves with the sympathetic left, stand up for human rights and genuinely desire a better world. Unfortunatley, they aren’t the people who Winterbottom needs to convert. Besides, this is not a film that will convert anyone, I’m afraid.
Sincerity is no substitute for storytelling, and compressing an arduous four month journey into 88 minutes doesn’t have the intended effect of showing the harrowing nature of the task. Instead, it makes for an often disjointed, crudely film shot on hand held video, barely held aloft by its music, often drained of context. (Like the scene of an ox having its head cut off.) For us to go on this journey with any sort of empathy, we need to get closer to the travellers than Winterbottom allows. The drama inherent in stories such as this (and this was cobbled together from many similar experiences) has not been captured. And the political problem Winterbottom has walked into is that the youngsters do not seem to be running away from any sort of political or religious persecution – just poverty and their woeful, third world living conditions. This plays into the hands of xenophobes who lump all refugees together as parasites and free-loaders, and want to close their borders to them, along with their hearts.
Review by Jake Wilson:
Despite careful planning and a theme (the plight of refugees who trust themselves to “people-smugglers”) that guarantees topical relevance, suspense, and local colour, In This World never comes to life as a work of art. The problems begin with the use of digital video, though the film isn’t a mindless visual insult like Coline Serreau’s recent Chaos. Working at the lower end of the technological spectrum, director Michael Winterbottom and his cinematographer Marcel Zyskind view blurry, murky images as appropriate to the subject matter, mirroring the absence of clear landmarks in a chaotic world. Jamal and Enayatullah are frequently filmed as members of a crowd, or from the opposite side of the street, as if the cameraman were having trouble keeping track of their story in the midst of so many others. Exaggerating the usual difficulties of location sound recording, Winterbottom amplifies the external noises made by a truck or a blizzard, then layers overwrought strings and percussion on top as if to give the whole narrative an operatic grandeur (an intention also conveyed by the widescreen format).
A typical lyrical interlude is devoted to traffic at night, the diffused glow of street-lamps and car headlights, everything dissolving into everything else; I guess we’re meant to be swept away by the wordless beauty of it all, but lack of definition as such is never a virtue, and the visual ideas aren’t original or specific enough to do more than evoke a familiar contemporary sense of drift. Working with amateur actors in a roughly neo-realist tradition, Winterbottom deliberately plays down psychology – there’s not even much sense of the relationship between the two leads, beyond occasional moments of slightly forced whimsy (Jamal toting an oversized icecream cone, or trying to amuse his companion with cryptic parables). It’s easy to imagine how Hollywood would tackle the same subject, overloading the script with “character arcs”, father-son symbolism, and neat dramatic ironies. Whatever the limits of that approach, it would at least allow us to connect with Jamal and Enayat as individuals; in pretending to objectivity, In This World ultimately resembles a pompous educational documentary, boring us to death with its good intentions.
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IN THIS WORLD (M)
CAST: Jamal Udin Torabi, Enayatullah
PRODUCER: Andrew Eaton, Anita Overland
DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom
SCRIPT: Tony Grisoni
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Marcel Zyskind
EDITOR: Peter Christelis
MUSIC: Dario Marionelli
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane: November 6, 2003; Perth, Adelaide: tba