“WELCOME” is an award winning French film dealing with the tough issues of refugees and migration in the Northern port city of Calais, France. “Welcome” presents the lives of desperate people in seemingly desperate circumstances.
The film, directed by Philippe Lioret focuses on Bilal (Firat Ayverdi), a young Kurd, who, having failed to cross the Channel hidden in a lorry is now desperate to get into the UK at any cost, no matter how bad the risk. Such is his need that he asks a local swimming instructor Simon (Vincent Lindon) to train him to swim across the daunting channel. A feat very few people have achieved unaided.
There are few things which cause men to do certain actions. What is Bilal’s motivation? Aside from his dream of a better life, his is, of course, love. His girlfriend lives in London and he longs to be with her.
Simon is both world-weary and in the midst of divorce. Initially reluctant to help, a longing for his ex-wife (a refugee volunteer) and the injustice he sees stirs him into action. In the face of huge risks, he befriends, trains and mentors Bilal and a sense of empathy grows between the two. The have an uneasy yet close relationship and Simon sees such great naïvety in Bilal but respects him for his dreams of a better life and the drive he has to fulfil it.
Bilal has already travelled 4000km almost on foot and endured torture to get to Calais. He is ready to risk his life to overcome the final hurdle, the vast emptiness of the channel.
“WELCOME” has been a smash hit in France and is now slowly gaining greater popularity around the world on the film festival circuit. Some members of the French government have criticised the film for how it shows the authorities in a bad light. Others have praised the piece for its realism and sense of empathy. Like any thought-provoking film, the piece has polarised opinions.
The characters and their sense of desperation are well portrayed. Often seen as mere faceless and nameless numbers, the refugees in the film, are fleshed out and their humanity is for all to see. As the film progresses, you gain a greater sense of empathy with their plight and their simple dreams which sadly, for the majority, will not be achieved.
Does Bilal make it across the channel? Regardless of the result, the film and the characters will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.