As Europe dithers, Cannes takes migration crisis head on

By: | Published: May 15, 2016 6:18 AM

“A happy, middle-class home with a cozy bedroom, swimming pool and tennis court. Is that the way we want to live?” asks French director Alain Guiraudie...

Films including The Last Resort, I, Daniel Blake and Staying Vertical screened at the ongoing film festival explore issues of homelessness, segregation and invasionFilms including The Last Resort, I, Daniel Blake and Staying Vertical screened at
the ongoing film festival explore issues of homelessness, segregation and invasion

“A happy, middle-class home with a cozy bedroom, swimming pool and tennis court. Is that the way we want to live?” asks French director Alain Guiraudie. “I don’t like this lifestyle personally,” Guiraudie goes on to provide the answer to the question troubling millions of affluent European families grappling with the influx of migrants from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Europe may have decided to turn its back on the refugees, inking pacts to send them back home, but the issue has been brought back to focus by filmmakers responding to the current crisis in global society.

As many as two films screened on the second day of the 69th Cannes film festival turned its attention on the refugee crisis in Europe. Guiraudie’s Staying Vertical, the first film to be screened in the prestigious competition section of the Cannes festival, stands out for its subtle portrayal of the tensions in contemporary society. For the shepherds in the vast prairie lands of Europe, the increasing number of wolves is creating a new existential problem. “You could equate the wolves with the sort of invasion in the people’s minds,” explains French actor Raphael Thiery, who plays a shepherd in the film.

“The truth is, the migrant crisis is a huge political issue today,” says Guiraudie. “It is not a problem for Europe alone,” adds the director, who won a Queer Palm in 2013, a competition on the sidelines of the Cannes festival to honour films made on the subject of the LGBT community, for Stranger by the Lake. In Staying Vertical, set in France, a shepherd’s family is suddenly confronted by the arrival of wolves threatening their existence. Told through the story of city dweller Leo, a scriptwriter who is visiting the shepherd’s family, the film is also filled with images of homeless people in urban settings. “The migration crisis is a huge problem,” adds Guiraudie. “We don’t know where to settle these people. We are also building walls in many places across the world,” he says.

Staying Vertical, screened on Thursday, only the second day of the 12-day-long Cannes festival, raised the global crisis on the movement of refugees along with another official entry, The Last Resort. A Greek-Italy-France co-production, The Last Resort, part of the special screenings section, takes the issue of migration head on with its portrayal of normal life the Italian port city of Trieste, where the borders have constantly changed for centuries.

Directed by Greek filmmaker Thanos Anastopoulos and his Italian collaborator Davide Del Degan, The Last Resort tells the tale of a beach in Trieste separated for men and women by a wall. “A wall across a beach in nowadays’ Europe seems to question all the foundations of our society,” says Anastopoulos. “The wall questions all our notions of origin, identity and belonging, where a wall can become the symbol of utopia and knock down the mental walls everybody is hiding inside,” he adds. With its identity as the port where cargo ships arrive everyday from Turkey with goods headed for Europe, the port city of Trieste also plays on the present and the problems with the refugee crisis.

“Films such as The Last Resort, like books hidden in a library, are the diamonds that make cinema great,” said Cannes festival general delegate and artistic director Thierry Fremaux while presenting the film on Thursday evening.

On the same day, veteran English filmmaker Ken Loach returned from retirement announced in 2014 after premiering Jimmy’s Hall in Cannes, showcased his new film, I, Daniel Blake, a powerful message on homelessness and poverty. In the film, Loach, a Palme d’Or Winner at Cannes, puts his camera on the poor in the British city of Newcastle. Daniel Blake, an elderly widower, represents the lowest strata of society, hanging on to their hopes of a better life. The film follows Loach’s similar attempt on the unemployed after the 2009 global economic meltdown in The Angel’s Share.

Faizal Khan is a freelancer

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