Monday, February 15, 2016


The film premiered last year at Cannes but is screening locally only now as part of the French Film Festival. Yet the timing, given the phase that the debate on refugees and the Double the Quota campaign have reached, in many ways couldn’t be better. This is a film that everyone should see, and now’s the time to do it.

Not that Mediterranea is about refugees proper. Its protagonists, Ayiva and Abas, are economic migrants, fleeing a country in which they couldn’t eke out a living for another that less than a hundred years ago sent its starving sons and daughters to America and Australia. We encounter the pair in Algeria, after they left their native Burkina Faso, and follow them into Libya – where they get robbed at rifle-point of their few belongings – and, most terrifyingly, on to the sea, on an overloaded barque driven by a passenger selected on the spot by the smugglers, then sent out, unequipped, towards possible if not probable death.

This is the risk they take. Figures for the fist eleven months of 2014 (the year the film was shot) catalogue the loss of 3,419 souls on this, ‘the deadliest road in the world’. If we put them in relation to the number of crossings, they are the numbers one might expect in a war zone. But still we don’t call these people refugees.

Reach the other side the fragile boat does, although not without strife. And the other side is Italy, or more precisely the small town of Rosarno, in Calabria, which in 2010 was the scene of riots by the African seasonal workers exasperated by their inhuman living and working conditions.

Film director Jonas Carpignano visited the town after the riots, and it was here that he met Burkinabe migrant Koudous Seihon, whose life story became the inspiration for the character he plays in Mediterranea. Building on his two short features, A chjàna and A ciambra, Carpignano tells the story of the two friends in sparse, direct style. Using the apparatus of cinéma verite he places us with them, even if it means having to read their background and motivations hesitantly, in the folds of the story. The result is a remarkably unsentimental portrayal of the struggle to settle in a country that offers no security and responds with racist violence to the demand for justice.

Given a three month temporary visa by the Italian authorities, during which time they must somehow obtain a regular employment contract to escape deportation, the two friends find seasonal work picking oranges. But while Ayiva is singled out by the orchard's owner for his attitude, and is even welcomed on the odd occasion at the family table, Abas doesn’t tolerate the discipline, the poor pay, and having to live as a squatter under constant threat of being robbed or evicted by the local police. Both ultimately face the same decision: whether to be a diligent worker and cultivate the faint hope that this will lead to disenfranchisement, or return to his country and a life that seems no worse than their new one. The eventual resolution is both poignant and heart-rending.

Grim as the film is, it has its hopeful moments, as well as a peculiar warmth. It also features Pio Amato, the wheeling and dealing Romani boy of A ciambra (in English ‘Young Lions of Gypsy’), the short that won the critics’ prize at Cannes the year before Mediterranea made its debut. Gloriously playing himself, Pio only has three scenes, but they alone justify the cost and the trouble of seeing this important and timely film.

Mediterranea will play around New Zealand on the following dates:

Sat 21 Feb 6.30pm
Fri 26 Feb 1.15pm
Sat 27 Feb 10.30pm
Sat 5 Mar 11.00am

Auckland – Rialto Cinemas
Sun 28 Feb 3.00pm
Fri 4 Mar 1.00pm
Mon 7 Mar 6.30pm
Sat 12 Mar 11.55am

Auckland – Takapuna
Sat 27 Feb 1.45pm
Sun 13 Mar 4.30pm

Sat 5 Mar 1.45pm
Sun 20 Mar 5.10pm

Wed 16 Mar 7.40pm
Sun 20 Mar 5.20pm

Tue 15 Mar 8.30pm
Thu 17 Mar 1.20pm

New Plymouth
Sun 20 Mar 5.20pm

Sat 19 Mar 8.30pm

Mon 21 Mar 8.30pm

Palmerston North
Thu 24 Mar 6.00pm

Sun 3 April 3.00pm
Thu 7 April 1.30pm

Havelock North
Sat 9 April 1.15pm

Tue 5 April 8.30pm
Fri 8 April 12.00pm

You can get tickets here.

No comments: