Migrants fight for survival in thriller in Cannes


Although impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the essential Cannes Film Market remains the world’s first springboard for cinema. France 24 toured its stands and spoke with Italian-Iraqi director Haider Rashid about his migrant thriller “Europa”.

This year again, Netflix remains persona non grata on the famous red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. And yet the streaming giant and its digital rivals dominate a market as large as the big screen, much to the relief of many independent producers.

It is clear that during the Covid-19 crisis, Netflix and Amazon were the main buyers of film productions, breathing new life into a market paralyzed by the pandemic. Netflix has struck a multi-million dollar deal to secure the worldwide rights to “Curs> r”, a horror film about a cursed video game. The American streaming platform has also obtained the worldwide rights, with the exception of France, for “Bac Nord”, a Marseille detective film which premiered at the festival this week.

For independent producers, the main players in the Cannes Film Market, streaming has been a lifeline throughout the pandemic, pumping money into projects that otherwise would never have seen the light of day.

Alongside the official competition and Cannes screenings, the Cannes Film Market, one of the largest film markets in the world, is a must-see. This is where we hear about the latest casting announcements and exciting new projects. It is also an opportunity for low-budget productions, with intrigues and wacky titles, to benefit from high visibility.

A poster for the Cannes Film Market.
A poster for the Cannes Film Market. © Benjamin Dodman, France 24

For new talent scouts, the Film Market is also the perfect place to spot future stars, like British Libyan actor Adam Ali. He is the protagonist of Haider Rashid’s thriller “Europa”, the premiere of which was widely applauded at the Directors’ Fortnight on Wednesday July 14th.

The film traces the titanic journey of migrants who attempt to cross Fortress Europe. A very current theme and yet relegated to the background in Cannes, obsessed this year by other topical subjects such as the climate emergency. Rising anti-immigrant sentiment made an ugly appearance in Nanni Moretti’s “Three Floors”, but there was no equivalent of Mati Diop’s “Atlantic” this year. Shot in Senegal, the film won the Grand Prix in 2019.

This year, Haider Rashid sets his film in a forest on the outskirts of Europe, where he follows his protagonist – Kamal, an Iraqi migrant – with a hand-held camera as he runs, jumps, crawls and climbs trees in a race. frantic to survive.


From the prologue, breathless, we discover a Bulgarian border guard who nails Kamal to the ground and says to him: “Go home, no Europe!”. The young Iraqi finally manages to escape into the woods, where an even more sinister threat awaits him. Heavily armed improvised vigilantes track down and slaughter migrants like wild animals. Even more terrifying, the viewer is informed from the start of the film by on-screen subtitles: all of this is based on appallingly real events.

Haider Rashid knows this story well, since his father was forced to flee Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the late 1970s. The director, now based in Florence, spoke to France 24 ahead of the premiere of ” Europa “.

France 24 : Was it important for you to portray the plight of migrants as a struggle for survival? ?

Haider Rashid : I wanted to make a movie that was a little bit shocking, and what could be more shocking than someone trying to survive? The situation on the Balkan route [une voie migratoire vers l’Europe via la Turquie, NDLR] really comes down to it, it’s a matter of life and death. People are treated like cattle. This problem is not well publicized. There are reports, but always with a distance, a filter. I felt that a fictional film could go further. And I wanted to capture the horror of it all by adopting the thriller genre.

How did you do your research for your film ?

I wrote the first version based on documents and reports from the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [de l’ONU, NDLR], Amnesty International and the main human rights organizations. Then we went to Bulgaria and did some field research. We met with a human rights lawyer, who told us that our scenario was actually a watered-down version of what’s going on. She told us about corruption, about the collaboration between traffickers and the border police, about how migrants are treated, used as cash machines.

To shoot the opening scene, we looked for migrants who may have already taken this path. We found people accommodated in reception centers near Florence. They were kind enough to come and work as extras on the set. We interviewed one behind the scenes with one of them who told us, “What I see here is exactly what I experienced on the road.”

Is your film based on your personal experience ?

My father had to flee Iraq in 1978 because of the regime [de Saddam Hussein]. I never considered that I was not safe. I always thought of myself as Italian, with an Italian passport, and I thought nothing could happen to me here. But with the rise of hatred and xenophobia in Italy and Europe in recent years, no one can tell me for sure that nothing is going to happen to me or to others.

The film was born out of fear, anger, disgust with what is happening on the political level. Even left-wing politicians are starting to speak the same language [xénophobe], because the audience has changed so much that they feel they have to use the same language. I am in a privileged position, and yet I always receive racist, subtle but real comments. I always say to myself: if this happens to me, what will happen to someone who is not in my privileged situation?

Extract of "Europa", with lead actor Adam Ali.
Taken from “Europa”, with lead actor Adam Ali. © MPM Premium

How did you choose Adam Ali, who plays the main role of “Europa” ?

We did some tests with several actors and none suited us. And then one day a friend who was here in Cannes [en 2019] sent me the trailer for a short film and I saw Adam. From the first frame I thought it was an interesting face, like a face from silent movies. For a movie without dialogue, you need something like this. He’s British but of Libyan descent, so we had this commonality of trying to understand our place in the world. We shot the movie in chronological order and I feel like you see the role growing in it, as we go through the story.

The abundance of Italian films here in Cannes has fueled discussions about the resurgence of Italian cinema. Has your film been supported in your country ?

The Tuscan Film Commission was very supportive of us and I was amazed that the Ministry [de la Culture] gave us money to make the film. It is difficult to finance a work like this, because on paper there is no dialogue, there is nothing. He’s just a guy in a forest. Some people get it, some don’t.

There is a resurgence of Italian cinema all over the country, with real regional diversity. We must go further now. There is a very high percentage of children with an immigrant background who are still not represented on the screen. It’s easy to put a black or Asian actor on camera, but that’s not it. It’s about who writes about them and how. The representation of immigrants and their children in Italy is disastrous.

This article has been translated from English, click here to read it in its original version.



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