In Philippe Lioret’s romantic drama Welcome, Kurdish immigrant Bilal is unwelcome as he journeys to reunite with his sweetheart in England.
Film ignites controversy
Welcome’s release touched off a firestorm in France, where up to five years of prison await those convicted of aiding illegal immigrants. Lioret has insisted in interviews that this film is really about love. “If this law will change, the people will change.”
Lioret evokes simple, stirring performances from non-professional actors, including Firat Ayverdi as Bilal; his sister Derya Ayverdi as Mina, and Audrey Dana as Marion.
A mentor helps
The bond between 17-year-old Bilal and Simon Calmat (Vincent Lindon), a soon-to-be divorced swim instructor in France, grows as the teacher recognizes the boy’s undying devotion. Bilal is a refugee who owns nothing but his dream. Simon is a failed swim champion whose life seems to crumble around him.
Simon teaches Bilal to swim, warning him of the dangers of swimming the English Channel. Bilal eventually moves in and sleeps on Simon’s couch. The relationship between the two endures socio-political strains.
When a meddlesome neighbor reports Simon to the police, veteran actor Lindon mesmerizes in a tense, brutal interrogation scene. Foreboding is palpable in Simon’s cloistered flat, reminiscent of scenes from the Nazi era.
Simon argues with his wife Marion. She works on a food line that feeds the homeless, including many illegals. Marion’s idealism, however, stops short of offending the locals.
Marion warns Simon, “Do I need to buy you a history book?” Simon cannot deny the boy’s humanity. He cannot stop caring.
Only the channel separates Bilal from Mina, who moved to England with her family. It’s just 30 kilometers across. Bilal can see the English shoreline.
Bilal trains for ordeal
Bilal intensifies his efforts to prepare for the swim. Meanwhile Mina’s father insists she marry a prosperous, local restaurant owner who she does not love.
Beautifully acted, Welcome features excellent night photography by Laurent Dailland.
The film was nominated for a number of Cesar awards including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography and Most Promising Actor. (5 out of 5 stars)
If you like Welcome, you might enjoy: Man Push Cart.
Welcome 2009 / NR / 1 hr, 49 min
Cast Overview: Vincent Lindon, Firat Ayverdi, Audrey Dana, Derya Ayverdi, Thierry Godard, Selim Akgul, Firat Celik, Murat Subasi
Director: Philippe Lioret
Genres: Foreign, Foreign Drama, Foreign Romance
Language: French, English and Arabic with English subtitles