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Review: Aya


- Lorenzo Valmontone and Thomas Szczepanski transport us to the metaphorical and metaphysical desert of Calais in the company of Zimako and Lydie, two souls awaiting chimeric salvation

Review: Aya

After his poignant film Jumping the Shadows [+see also:
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(directed alongside Steven Blatter) which was selected for a number of festivals including Visions du Réel in Nyon, Lorenzo Valmontone is making his return to the Solothurn Film Festival in the company of Thomas Szczepanski to present Aya (in the running for the Prix de Soleure): a sincere portrait, full of humanity, about two lost souls who are trying to survive the lethargic monotony of a life which seems determined to swallow them up.

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Caught in an endless Dantesque circle which isn’t all that easy to escape, Zimako - a Togolese migrant and former inhabitant of the since destroyed “Calais Jungle” - and Lydie - a volunteer helping all those who have travelled to Calais in hope of a better life - are united by a similar past marked by abuse and violence. Zimako is a fascinating and complex character, scarred by a decidedly truculent past and the survivor of a migratory odyssey which he’s yet to leave behind him. Imbued with a darker-toned sense of humour which sees him analysing the present in a highly personal and heart-breaking manner (how could we not be moved as he reveals his nigh-on delusional dream of a Hollywood career), Zimako holds up a mirror to our own weaknesses and fragilities.

In the first instance, Lydie seems to accompany this overexcited and hypersensitive character in the shadows; she’s an alter ego, of sorts, who lives off the final vestiges of a past in which both seemed to have found their raison d’être. Indeed, Zimako was known in the "Calais Jungle" as the initiator of an educational project which encouraged and assisted others to learn French, while Lydie helped migrants by way of concrete actions to raise awareness of difficult living conditions in the “Jungle” among the city’s inhabitants and politicians. Through Valmontone and Szczepanski’s lens, however, Lydie’s seeming discretion and reserve turn into dogged determination. Despite a past which could have crushed her forever (thirty years under the yoke of a violent, alcoholic husband), hypersensitive Lydie has never stopped fighting or dreaming about a more humane, tolerant and inclusive future.

While Zimako seems to be gradually sliding towards a deluded and delusional fanaticism, Lydie keeps her feet firmly on the ground, perhaps too much so, as an unwilling witness to the deep social unease which she realises she can no longer fight. “This film was born out of a desire to depict human beings, through images, in all their paradoxes, greatness and weaknesses”, the two directors explain, as if to remind us that we’re not all treated in the same way, despite the facade of equality.

Through poetic yet “jarring” images of Calais, sometimes resembling the Far-West, Valmontone and Szczepanski encourage the audience to adopt the same pace as Zimako and Lydie, an obsessive yet lethargic momentum based on daily rituals which acquire an almost sacred value. Aya (which means “wind” in Mina, Zimako’s mother-tongue) urges us to question the society we live in, but also identity, or rather denied identity. A migrant’s life involves uncertainty and a great deal of waiting around, as explained by the two directors, and this is what’s depicted visually by their film: a life built upon moments of hope and despair, joy and pain, like the wind itself, which more or less inhabits each and every sequence. Aya is a touching, intelligent and urgently shot film, seeking out a reality which is tragically changing before our eyes.

Aya is produced by fledgling Genevan production company Take Time Films, who are currently seeking a distributor for this movie.

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(Translated from Italian)

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