Review: The Channel
- The film by French director Thierry Binisti tackles the theme of emigration with naturalness and verisimilitude, with some concessions to the directorial style of television
“Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, then Budapest, Austria, Germany, Calais.” This is Walid's (Adam Bessa) answer to Natacha (Alice Isaaz), who asked him about his journey from Iraq to France. A young single mother working as a waitress in a bar and struggling to support herself and her eight-year-old son Enzo, Natacha loves Italy but has never left the coast overlooking the English Channel. Walid is waiting to clandestinely cross that heavily guarded stretch of sea to reach London with his brother. He has studied literature, is cultured and quotes Voltaire (“A man is free the moment he wishes to be”), says he is “a survivor, not a victim.” Just like Natacha, who does not have fear and death etched in her eyes like the Iraqi, nor the scars on her back, but feels like a caged animal, wounded but ready to take back her freedom.
The two protagonists of The Channel [+see also:
film profile] by French director Thierry Binisti – the big winner of the 2023 Bergamo Film Meeting – met by chance and are the faces of two different cultures and civilisations that are increasingly forced to confront each other. The price of that “passage,” as the film's original title states, lies in becoming painfully aware of someone other than oneself, in need of asylum, of protection. Natacha goes from an utterly provincial disenchantment – looking for money for the water heater that no longer works – to the cold shower of a next level of awareness of the world. She does not hesitate to hide African boys or Syrian families in the boot of her Dacia to ferry them to Dover for money, until she realises that the illegal thing she is doing is perhaps a mission.
It is quite natural to think of films like Philippe Lioret's Welcome [+see also:
interview: Philippe Lioret
film profile], which had opened a debate on the decriminalisation of aiding and abetting illegal immigrants: there a French man, in a marital crisis, meets a Kurdish minor who wants to swim across the Channel. Distrust first, mutual acquaintance, collaboration. Thierry Binisti is an eclectic director: having started out in cinema, he has moved on to TV with successful historical miniseries, detective series, romantic and family comedies, literary adaptations and in 2014 even a TV film for France 3 on the theme of trans-identity, Belinda et Moi. Here, he directs the effervescent Alice Isaaz with naturalness and great verisimilitude and has the merit of summarising the complicated world of migrants in Europe with a certain plausibility, between illegal immigrants and “dublined” (i.e. a migrant already registered in another European country and therefore unable to seek asylum in France). After a dynamic but controlled first part, the director seems worried about making the film appear too “authorial” and enlivens it in the second part, ending up diluting it with not-so-necessary action scenes and several sub-endings. It is a concession to the TV directing style that distances the film from the golden sobriety of Welcome or the brilliant magical realism of Aki Kaurismäki's Le Havre [+see also:
interview: Aki Kaurismäki
film profile]. Ultimately, this is a film that may find a wider public than festival audiences, ready to be sensitised on an important issue.
The Channel is a Franco-Belgian co-production by TS Productions and Artémis Productions. It will be distributed in France by Diaphana from 12 April. International sales are handled by Be for Films.
(Translated from Italian)
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