Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The title is ironic as Bilal (Firat Ayverdi), a 17-year-old Kurd, quickly discovers on arriving in Calais after a three-month trek from Iraq. Filled with a sense that the worst of his journey is behind him, he hopes he will soon be locked in a reunion, on the British side of the channel, with the love of his life, Mina (Derya Ayverdi). But, in the world of illegal migration, effort and desire are not necessarily rewarded by success. Calais, far from being a mere stepping stone towards a new life, is, for many, a place of limbo, where the dreams of many looking to reach Britain are drowned by the reality of the English Channel.

This makes Philippe Lioret's latest sound as though it is a fairly grim diatribe on the tribulations of would-be migrants but, cleverly, the stark realism is here used to provide a backdrop to an engaging drama running on 'father and son' lines, rather than as a be-all and end-all.

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Bilal's first attempt to cross the Channel - courtesy of people smugglers who stash migres in trucks - ends in disaster, so in desperation he decides to try to swim across... the only snag being that he can barely complete a stroke. Unabashed by this, he signs up for lessons at his local pool and it is here that his path crosses that of Simon (Vincent Lindon) - a former top-flight swimmer whose life is empty since wife Marion (Audrey Dana) left him for another man.

These men are from vastly different backgrounds and ages, with one fixated on nothing but the future and the other unable to stop dwelling on the past, but they are both, in their own way, little boys lost. Although not realising Bilal's scheme at first Simon quickly cottons on and does all he can to hold the youngster back, initially to impress Marion - who spends her evenings running a soup kitchen for migrants down by the docks. Yet he soon finds himself drawn to Bilal's passion even as it reflects the love he himself has lost. This coupled with the prejudice that surrounds the young Kurd, leads Simon to take on an increasingly protective role towards him, despite the fact that he risks prosecution by doing so.

By keeping the focus firmly on the personal relationship between the two men - and by making them fully rounded characters with genuine strengths and weaknesses - Lioret lifts his story out of cliche and into a place where emotions flourish. Lindon is masterful in the role of Simon, like a world-weary cross between Daniel Auteil and Peter Mullan, while Ayverdi brings just the right mix of youthful fervour and fearlessness to the part of Bilal. By making us care deeply about this unlikely duo, we are able to feel the outrages of the battle Bilal faces, both from the general public and the law enforcement services, all the more keenly. And if one or two of the latter plot developments require a small leap of faith, Lioret never loses sight of reality and a world in which endings are rarely served up in a box tied neatly with a bow.

Reviewed on: 12 Nov 2009
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A Kurdish boy from Iraq trying to reach the UK strikes up an unusual friendship with a middle-aged Frenchman.
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Director: Philippe Lioret

Writer: Olivier Adam, Emmanuel Courcol, Philippe Lioret

Starring: Vincent Lindon, Derya Ayverdi, Audrey Dana, Firat Ayverdi

Year: 2009

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


French 2009

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