Art And Culture

‘Mediterranea’ Brings Plight of African Migrants to Big Screen

‘Mediterranea’ Brings Plight of African Migrants to Big Screen‘Mediterranea’ Brings Plight of African Migrants to Big Screen

‘Mediterranea’, which opens in French cinemas on Wednesday, is a stark exploration of illegal immigrants’ perilous journey from North Africa to Europe.

Few topics could have more international relevance and urgency than the ongoing tragedy of “boat people” crossing the Mediterranean, the subject of Italian-American director Jonas Carpignano’s first feature film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says more than 2,600 people have died attempting the hazardous crossing this year – and thousands more have moved on to a precarious existence in Italy and other European countries.

In the film, Carpignano goes beyond the gruesome headlines to focus on the little-known hardships of migrants who set foot on Italian soil, patiently setting the stage for a dramatic reconstruction of the riots that rocked the southern town of Rosarno in 2010. The script is inspired by real events, interviews and the director’s own journey through North Africa – interrupted only when Algerian authorities warned him about the presence of al Qaeda cells in the area, reports.

The film’s beautifully shot opening scenes give a cursory but vivid portrayal of migrants’ grueling sea journey. Clinging to overloaded trucks or walking through desert terrain, they are easy prey to bandits and exploitative traffickers. Upon reaching the Libyan coast, the migrants find out they have to pilot the rickety vessel themselves because the smugglers won’t do it. The Mediterranean’s treacherous waters soon cause the vessel to capsize. Some survive by holding on to a floating structure until they are rescued by the Italian coastguard. A chilling underwater shot reveals the floating bodies of those who didn’t make it.

The film follows Ayiva (Koudous Seihon) and his friend Abas (Alassane Sy) to Rosarno, in Italy’s southern Calabria region. The two of them have been given a three-month permit to stay in the country, but need a job contract to apply for long-tem residency – a near-impossible mission. Calabria turns out to be cold, desolate and with few job prospects. The migrants live in filthy shacks and squats, vulnerable to eviction by the police. They are exploited in orange groves and paid a pittance. The gap between their expectations of Europe and the reality they encounter is glaring. The disillusionment is palpable, but so is Ayiva’s profound joy when he sends his first 50 euros and a gift for his daughter back home.

The film draws an equally insightful portrait of southern Italy, a traditional, economically backward land with a long history of emigration that is ill-equipped for the challenges of immigration.