Attractive Illusion


Reviewed by: David Graham

Attractive Illusion
"The characters are vivid and full of life in a way that a traditional script might not convey."

The plight of illegal Nigerian immigrants in Europe is examined in this harrowing, Ken Loach-style drama. What could easily have been emotion-exploiting art-house soap-boxing turns out to be a little more assured and restrained, with director Petros Sevastikoglou refusing to lay blame or pull punches in his depiction of human corruption. The performances from screen newcomers are all engagingly naturalistic, their idiosyncratic take on English also giving the film and its characters a fresh feel that the often unnecessary subtitles sometimes undermine. Attractive Illusion probably has limited commercial potential, being more akin to a solid TV drama than a cinematic release, but it still deserves recognition for its conviction and simple message.

In order to make money for their families at home, a group of young Nigerians pay to be smuggled into Greece, their closest point of entry into mainland Europe. Shacking up with a transient group of other immigrants, the group make a pittance washing dishes and selling counterfeit goods, while dodging the authorities on a daily basis. Several abusive bosses and narrow escapes from police later, the more determined and foolhardy of the men sees an opportunity in drug-dealing as his ticket to the top, while a naive girl takes her friend's advice in pursuing what turns out to be prostitution. Both of these young hopefuls find their dreams of a new, better life compromised when they're tied to a powerful and abusive pimp; their fate could be determined by the friendships they have forged.

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An intensely claustrophobic credit sequence details the harsh reality of the characters' journey to Greece, confined to the cramped hold of a tiny yacht, stuck in each others' faces with nowhere else to look and nothing to do. In contrast, their naive excitement on the mainland is infectious, the men contentedly playing football inside their dilapidated, over-populated home while they optimistically make plans to get rich over plates of microwave noodles. All of the incidental, documentary-style details contribute to our understanding of the pressures these people are under, the director refusing to pass judgement on their actions or Greece's socio-economic part in their plight.

The characters are vivid and full of life in a way that a traditional script might not convey; their improvised banter has the energy of the best social realist drama, while their charming determination underpins the increasingly foolish decisions they make. They're shown to have little rational choice other than to take these routes, and the film's romantic subplots are nicely developed off to the side of the reality of their situations. This highlights their fortitude but also their attempts to hold on to some kind of innocence and hope for the future, their relationships letting them transcend the suffering they've gone and are going through.

While it never lingers unnecessarily on the characters' troubles, Attractive Illusion still takes an uncomfortable and unflinching look at the sexual and psychological abuse these borderline-refugees are subjected to. Interestingly, Sevastikoglou focuses on their fellow immigrants as the perpetrators of this, greed and brutality seemingly fueled by resentment for their own kind and where they've come from. There are no Greek characters in the film at all; even the local johns we see lining up for their turn with our traumatised, child-like heroine are portrayed as pathetic, pitiable losers in life, themselves perhaps victims of their own country's dire state of affairs.

Sevastikoglou is to be commended for taking such a direct approach to his subject matter, and for his sensitive employment of unknowns in the lead roles, but the script does eventually slip into predicable Euro-misery. Anyone who's seen Lilya 4-Ever or any number of other cautionary films will know exactly where this is going, and the fact that it goes there so artlessly will be as bitter a pill for as many as it will be a refreshing alternative for others. Attractive Illusion isn't the sort of film you'd take a first date to, but it is an enlightening glimpse into the mundane but harsh reality of life for many of Europe's undocumented citizens; if you can handle the upsetting nature of the characters' journey, you'll find plenty of heart and humanity to their trials.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2012
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In search of a better life, a boatful of Nigerians wash up on the shores of Greece and head for Athens. There they embark on a precarious new life.

Director: Petros Sevastikoglou

Writer: Kenny Abdeleke, Kelechwuku Chukwuejim, Sunny Ohilebo, Petros Sevastikoglou

Starring: Tmc, J Linus, M. Ohilebo, PIO Austyeno, D Nusakhare, Sunny Ohilebo

Year: 2012

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Greece, Nigeria


EIFF 2012

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