mon 15/07/2024

Green Border review - Europe's baleful boundary | reviews, news & interviews

Green Border review - Europe's baleful boundary

Green Border review - Europe's baleful boundary

A tough, brilliant spotlight on the lot of refugees from Poland's veteran, venerable Agnieszka Holland

Cruel intentions: Guards play human shuttlecock in Agnieszka Holland’s ‘Green Border’

We’re used to dabs of colour splashing briefly across black-and-white movies – Spielberg’s Schindler’s List or Coppola’s Rumble Fish spring to mind – but director Agnieszka Holland has a new and uncompromising variant on the ruse.

The colour opening shot of Green Border swoops across the treetops of an emerald forest in Middle Europe, but in less than a minute the verdant image bleaches into monochrome. It never seems likely that a multi-hued continent will be back on our screen for the rest of the movie – 152 minutes of brilliant, controlled filmmaker fury – and so it proves. This indictment of the EU’s refugee policies on its eastern border is another deeply humane chronicle of cruelty from the veteran Pole. You’re not likely to see a grimmer atrocity in cinema this year than a scene in which a heavily pregnant woman is hurled by two border guards across a barbed wire fence from Poland into Belarus.

The moment stands for the whole hideous game at the heart of the movie, set in 2021. The government of Belarus encouraged refugees to fly to Minsk so they could be ferried into Poland as part of a Putin-esque plot to screw with the EU. Polish border guards then ignored their asylum claims and drove them – or threw them – back into Belarus. The hateful human shuttlecock that ensued is here dramatised from several angles.

The first is the story of a family fleeing ISIS in Syria, with Dalia Naous and Jalal Altawil as the parents of three young children, and Mohamad Al Rashi as their grandpa. Blows, dogs and all manner of casual sadism drive them and others back and forth across the wire for the first 40 minutes or so. In her Holocaust drama of 2011, In Darkness, Holland showed how good she was at the chaos of panicked groups in extremis, and she’s on similar form here (once more with kids and babies trapped in the melee).

Then we switch to Polish border guards and their official culture of repression. Their trainer tells them the refugees are conduits for “terrorist, paedophile and zoophile” (look it up) activities. “They aren’t people – they are live bullets.” We track the career of one hesitant guard played by Tomasz Włosok. Finally, there are Polish human rights activists (principally Monika Frajczyk and Maja Ostaszewska), whose twisting travails create narrative movement and glimmers of hope. Risking eight years in jail for helping “people traffickers”, they’re less aid workers than resistance fighters in a police state.

Much of the film takes place in primal forests engulfed by the dark and occasionally slashed by headlights and flashlights, a challenge very capably met by cinematographer Tomasz Naumiuk. In Europa Europa (1990) and In Darkness, both about Nazi brutality, Holland reminded us that people’s messy, often petty humanity survived even as that humanity was being abolished – something, as a Polish Jew, she was particularly qualified to explore.

The persecuted this time (Afghans, Syrians, Africans) are less shaded and individuated than their oppressors and rather middle-class helpers, but Holland isn’t frightened of a methodical pace that leaves room for guilt, lack of guilt and conscience to air out. The camerawork is supple while Hollywood-ish moments of optimism brighten things by the close. (The director’s credit is accompanied by the names of two “collaborators”, Kamila Tarabura and Katarzyna Warzecha. The writers are Holland, Maciej Pisuk and Gabriela Łazarkiewicz-Sieczko.)

Poland’s far-right government has been dumped since the fictional events shown, but captions at the end of the film insist that the border outrages persist. The final moments also show hordes of Ukrainians (and their pets) being welcomed in after February 2022, which may or may not help the film’s argument.

Green Border depicts a Cold War hotter than the actual Cold War was, its characters entangled in propaganda as spiteful as the razor wire along its baleful boundary. Recent EU elections have, of course, moved the continent yet further towards a political cliff. Holland’s movie is a lesson plan for the 21st century and she has the résumé to draw a clear line between the 1940s and the 2020s. The forest closes in.

Holland’s movie is a lesson plan for the 21st century


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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