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Tuesday, April 05, 2016


Immigrant stories seem to be popular with film directors. Maybe it's because they are usually viewed with hostility as outsiders, which I imagine most directors can empathize with. Immigration is a big issue in the U.S., but also in Europe, where natives have expressed their own xenophobia.

Mediterranea concerns men who emigrate from Africa to Italy, hoping to improve their financial lot in life. Writer and director Jonas Carpignano focuses on two men from Burkina Faso--Ayiva (Koudos Seihon) and Abas (Alassane Sy). They are ferried across the Mediterranean in a fashion much like Mexican and Central American immigrants are guided over the Rio Grande by "coyotes." Here the man who has taken their money refuses to pilot the boat, so Ayiva, hardly a seaman, takes the helm. They go through a storm but make it.

There is already an African community where they go, and meet up with Ayiva's uncle. They don't have work papers, though, and can not get a residence, so they live in a shantytown. But they get work picking oranges, and though have a few mishaps Ayiva becomes a valued worker by his boss, even be invited to dinner at his home.

But, of course, Africans are viewed with suspicion and intolerance by the locals, and the climax of the film involves a riot in which protesting Africans are assaulted by Italians, and the Africans fight back by destroying cars. Abas is severely injured, and Ayiva decides to go home.

I liked this film, though the story feels familiar, because at least the setting is novel. Ayiva's boss tells him how his own grandfather went to America and had it hard, and one of the great human failings, the inability to get along with other tribes, is reinforced. Xenophobia means fear of strangers, not merely hatred of strangers, and that is correct, because it seems that fear is behind the anger--fear of losing a job, fear of losing a national identity, fear of who knows.

Seihon gives a great, quiet performance as a man just trying to do right, is easy to root for. His dignity and perserverance are palpable, but we understand when he realizes its not worth losing one's life.

Mediterranea is a thoughtful, powerful film.

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