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In This World

Chameleon film-maker Michael Winterbottom adds another rough-edged facet to his unpredictable oeuvre with this provocative, emotionally gut-wrenching account of the epic journey taken by two young Afghani men from a refugee camp in north-west Pakistan to London’s Kilburn High Road. Shot on digital video, it has the immediacy of documentary footage, but also the power of constructed narrative. Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind’s arresting images and Dario Marianelli’s ethnically influenced music signal the unreality of what we are watching; but this is the point. The film is not an objective record, but a shared emotional journey, one we cannot observe dispassionately. We must engage with the two young men, the jokey 15-year-old Jamal and his more serious older cousin Enayatullah, as they surrender themselves to a series of shifty ‘fixers’ and avaricious people-traffickers.
It would have been easy for Winterbottom to load the dice by choosing a cute family fleeing direct political or social oppression. Instead he has chosen two young men who, in that loaded Thatcherite phrase, are ‘economic migrants’. In so doing, he succeeds in tackling a topical political issue head-on, without any hint of preaching or special pleading. The young men’s motives are not at issue: the point is to show the lengths to which they will go in order to find a better life, despite the distance this places between them and their families, their culture, and their homeland. Whether hidden among boxes of oranges on the back of a lorry, trudging through knee-deep snow to cross the border into Turkey, or overcome with panic in the claustrophobic confines of a shipboard metal container bound for Italy, this is epic journey driven by only a hope and a prayer.
(U.K., 2002. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 88 mins.)

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