A lean and ruthlessly unfiltered look at the immigrant experience, ‘Europa’ drops us alongside a young Iraqi man trying to cross into Europe on foot, and we never leave his side for the next 75 minutes. The young man is Kamal, played by British-Libyan actor Adam Ali, and he is trying to reach safety via the infamous Balkan route.
The film opens with a group of migrants travelling through the dark wilderness near the border between Turkey and Bulgaria. They are being guided by people smugglers, who take vast sums of money from them and then abandon them to cross the border on their own. All hell breaks loose when the authorities locate them. Carnage and chaos ensue, and innocent people are shot dead like animals. Kamal takes advantage of the confusion and crosses into the forests of Bulgaria.
There is no let up for Kamal however, as this side of border is patrolled by nationalist vigilantes with machine guns, who are quite happy to hunt and kill migrants. Director Haider Rashid and DoP Jacopo Caramella capture all of this in handheld extreme close up, imbuing the film with a breathless immediacy.
Kamal’s journey is a never-ending odyssey of unrelenting danger, pain, terror, and exhaustion. There’s so little dialogue it plays almost like a silent film, with the only soundtrack being the grunting and breathing of Kamal as he scrabbles through the undergrowth and hides under rocks.
As well as the gruelling physical aspect of the migrant experience, and the fear of the authorities and vigilantes, Haider and co-screenwriter Sonia Giannetto also explore the palpable terror that exists between migrants and the general public. In an incredibly tense sequence, Kamal flags down a car for a ride. They don’t speak the same language. It’s only the fear and instinctual wariness that they can read in each other’s eyes as they try to figure out what might happen next.
‘Europa’ grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go right up to the brilliant and ambiguous ending. After all he has endured, has Kamal finally encountered an act of human kindness, or yet another act of spectacularly heartless inhumanity? Essential viewing.