L Movie Review 2

A family of Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS is enticed into seeking asylum in the European Union by way of Belarus, but finds themselves unceremoniously dumped in the stark, forested strip of no-man’s-land between Belarus and Poland. The promise of safe passage that lured them there is revealed to be nothing more than political propaganda, and they must now fight for survival in the marshy wasteland patrolled by vicious guards on both sides of the fence. Thus does Green Border, the new film by Agnieszka Holland, drill a straight path through the head and into the heart. A high-stakes thriller, this galvanizing drama puts a human face to a catastrophe Americans only read about in the news, and reminds us that the refugee crisis isn’t merely a political issue but affects actual flesh and bone. The film hits hard but also plays fair — every thoroughly researched detail drips with credibility. It won the Special Jury Prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival and is now opening on U.S. screens.

The family in question — concerned husband, pregnant wife, devout grandfather, and two children — is joined by a woman from Afghanistan (Behi Djanati Atai) who quickly earns their trust. The two-and-a-half-hour story weaves together several narrative strands, each with its own featured characters: a married Polish border guard (Tomasz Włosok), who begins to suffer a crisis of conscience; a cohort of activists who minister to the immigrants’ physical needs under the nose of the authorities; and a therapist (the superb Maja Ostaszewska), whose comfortable existence is disrupted when she decides to become involved with the drama on her doorstep.

Given the harrowing topicality of the subject matter, Green Border could have easily lapsed into the sort of editorializing that halts the drama, but under Holland’s experienced hand — well-developed after five decades of making movies — the film steers clear of every trap laid out before it. Working from a script she co-wrote with Gabriela Lazarkiewicz and Maciej Pisuk, Holland brings a painful, physical awareness to this survival story: flesh lacerated by barbed wire, pruney, waterlogged feet, mortifying strip searches. The soundtrack is occasionally overwhelmed by babies wailing, mothers crying, fathers praying.

What makes it all tolerable — without sacrificing one iota of the horror of the situation — is Holland’s stylistic maturity. This is, after all, a filmmaker schooled among the likes of Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Kieslowski — auteurs whose moral outrage is matched only by their classical restraint. Not counting the decision to shoot in black and white — an obvious way of signaling a commitment to realism — there is nothing showy about the technique here. Every shot serves the story and the story serves the message.

Green Border has already met with controversy in Poland, where the Warsaw-born director remains persona non grata. (In 1981, she fled her home country shortly before martial law was instituted by the ruling communist party.) Denounced by government officials as anti-Polish propaganda, the film is in fact an indictment of oppressive regimes that use human beings as pawns in broader political conflicts. Having started her career under a communist system and returned more than once to the subject of the Holocaust, the director has earned the right to be critical of any country that tilts toward fascism. Her latest film is an urgent reminder that no matter where the borderlines are drawn, we are all responsible for each other. 


























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