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Europa: Film Review

Haider Rashid’s Europa is a poignant, tense and enlightening look at the perils of migration through an intimate story about a boy from Iraq.

Amidst the recent harrowing, heart-breaking news footage coming from Afghanistan, Haider Rashid’s Europa arrives at the Edinburgh International Film Festival at a time when the subject of migration is once again at the forefront of public consciousness. It’s a poignant, intimate and tense film that emphasises the pain and perseverance migrants experience in the search for ‘safety and dignity’.

Kamal (Adam Ali) is a young man from Iraq, who makes the terrifying decision to cross the dangerous border between Turkey and Bulgaria on foot in the dead of night. Almost immediately, Kamal and his fellow migrants are surrounded by armed guards and barking dogs. It’s a disorienting mix of yelling and bright lights and panicked breathing as Kamal is forced to the ground, hands bound behind his back, and told: ‘Go back. No Europe.’ Determined and given an opportunity, Kamal escapes into the woods and begins a perilous journey in search of something resembling safety, whilst being pursued by so-called ‘Migrant Hunters’.

It’s an experience most will never endure: being exhausted, hungry and physically shaking with fear, trainers split from wear and armed with nothing but a passport, crawling over rocks and weaving through trees in the quest for a better life. Europa places the viewer intimately close to Kamal as he moves through the woods as a way of bringing the harsh realities of journeys like these to life. Cinematographer Jacopo Maria Caramella’s camera rarely strays far from Kamal’s face, keeping the details of what’s happening in his immediate surroundings out of direct sight for audiences. The sound is all diegetic, everything heard is happening in situ on screen, and it combines with the frenetic focus of Caramella’s camerawork to produce tense, heart-in-mouth type filmmaking. Rashid succeeds in making the journey as visceral as possible for the viewer. There’s no forewarning of what might be behind the next tree or over the next rock, and Kamal’s fear, trepidation and nerves are echoed right from the off.

Adam Ali’s performance is the soul of the film. Kamal’s exhaustion, pain, fear, determination, horror and desperation are writ clearly on his face throughout. It’s a tremendous piece of acting, and his physical decisions – helped by Rashid’s direction – are instrumental in making Kamal’s experiences easy to connect with in the absence of dialogue for most of the film. Language is a barrier for Kamal, but Rashid emphasises the humanity to create an empathetic experience that transcends words.

loud and clear reviews europa edinburgh film festival
Europa (Courtesy of MPM Premium)

The ending of Europa is both hopeful and frustrating, but perhaps that’s the point. Rashid understands that the reality for journeys like Kamal’s involves setting out with no concrete destination, and the ambiguity is reflective of that. The investment in Kamal’s wellbeing doesn’t lead to a satisfying, definitive conclusion and that might grate on some, but it’s in keeping with the purpose of Rashid’s film.

As the news and social media are flooded with distressing images and videos of people in Afghanistan desperately trying to flee to safety, Europa’s message is even more poignant and timely. It is the right of every human being to live in safety, and there are thousands like Kamal for whom the reality is more terrifying than any film or shaky Instagram clip can really convey. Haider Rashid’s Europa is an intimate, tense and heart-breaking realisation of that, and highly recommended as a means in which the true suffering of people like Kamal can be felt on a human level via the big screen.

Europa had its UK Premiere at the 2021 Edinburgh Film Festival on 20th August, 2021, and will be released in UK cinemas and on demand on 18 March, 2022

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