Eye For Film >> Movies >> Harbour (2018) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Did you go on school trips as a child? They're a nightmare for teachers. Thirty or more youngsters liberated from the familiar discipline of the classroom, prone to acting up, picking on each other, playing practical jokes and wandering off at random intervals. All the usual stresses are doubled when the trip involves going overseas. Yet when, in the midst of dealing with all this, English teacher Adèle (Marie Bunel) suddenly discovers an unfamiliar boy (N'Tarila Kouka) trying to get through customs as part of her flock, she impulsively puts her own school cap on his head in order to save him.
We never learn the boy's origins. His dark skin, his fear of officials and the fact that he's all alone tell us enough. On the way to the ferry, Adèle's colleague Romain (Ali Marhyar) argues furiously with her decision, emphasising the serious trouble they could both get into as a result. The other children aren't stupid; she tells them that this is a new boy from another school but it's clear that at least some of them have figured it out. Will they speak up? As the ferry sets out to sea, on its way to Portsmouth, and night draws in, Adèle wrestles with the potential consequences of her actions. Yet distraught as she is, she has barely grasped the enormity of what those actions mean to the boy. In a quiet moment out on the deck something shifts, and all at once we can see that she has understood the difference between her few hours of worry and the weeks, months or years for which this child has lived in fear.
Bunel's performance is big, emotional, and it makes complete sense that Adèle would be this way, yet in positioning it in contract to Kouka's quietness, director Paul Marques Duarte forces a change of perspective and a reckoning with how little trouble most of us are prepared to go to in light of the scale of suffering among asylum seekers - a challenge to that comfortable sense of being one of the good guys that it's all too easy to acquire if voicing opposition to tough policies on migration. Why has Adèle done what she has done? There are little hints earlier in the film, reflecting on her frustrated situation as a mother. Kouka has big eyes, silently beseeching her to help. Was it heroic, or careless, or merely instinctive. It's not clear that she knows, but what she realises is the gulf between her perspective and his.
There are some other nice touches here. The younger characters are more complex than might have been expected. Several different experiences of the momentous journey are compressed into the film, revealed through background actions, small glances, moments of hesitation. Critical moments are framed by the vastness of the sea and the night sky, whilst the sound of waves and wind emphasise the smallness of everybody on the ship. We meet these people only briefly; we will never know all of what becomes of them, but we know that they will think of each other for the rest of their lives.Reviewed on: 31 Oct 2019