We have begun another year of film discussions at Thomas Ford. On Friday night, September 17, fourteen people gathered in our community room to view Welcome, an award-winning French film written and directed by Philippe Lioret. Jamie Kallio, my partner in running our film series, made an excellent choice when she scheduled Welcome, which we received from our Film Movement subscription. Not only did the attendees seem to appreciate this contemporary film, they wanted to talk for over half an hour.
Lioret made the film in response to recent changes in French law that have criminalized helping illegal immigrants. The director went to troubled Calais where the shores of England can be seen across the English Channel. There he learned of the desperation of many Middle Eastern and African immigrants gathered along the wharfs and the official harassment of the sympathetic French individuals offering assistance to refugees. Hearing that one young illegal was training to swim the channel, he had a plot from which to develop his film about the consequences of French and English immigration policy. Because the same problems trouble other countries, the film has international relevance.
Welcome focuses on two characters. Bilal is a seventeen-year-old Kundish refugee who left Iraq hoping to join his girlfriend in England. After three months of walking and riding freight trains, he has reached the English Channel at Calais. After being captured trying to stow away in a cargo truck boarding a ferry, he begins swimming lessons so that he can swim the channel. Simon is a former French swimming champ who tries to dissuade Bilal on one hand but gives him lessons and a wetsuit on the other. Both are hopelessly in love with women who are somehow unobtainable. Neither is willing to surrender his romantic dream. Their acting and the cinematography are excellent. Welcome won Grand Prize at the Heartland Film Festival and was nominated for ten Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Academy Awards).
The Film Movement provides discussion questions and an interview with the director on its website. I recommend Welcome for film discussions at libraries and for current affairs discussions at schools and churches.
Welcome. Film Movement, 2009. 110 minutes. ISBN 9781449815219