The Movie Waffler New Release Review - GREEN BORDER | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - GREEN BORDER

Green Border review
A family of Syrian refugees find themselves stuck between the borders of Belarus and Poland.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Agnieszka Holland

Starring: Jalal Altawil, Maja Ostaszewska, Behi Djanati Atai, Mohamad Al Rashi, Dalia Naous, Tomasz Włosok

Green Border poster

Watching Green Border, Agnieszka Holland's (writing credits shared with Gabriela Łazarkiewicz-Sieczko and Maciej Pisuk) vivid refugee-crisis drama, with its intense theatre-of-cruelty presentation, one might be tempted to dismiss the atrocities depicted within as a bit much: a pro-refugee propaganda, wherein Manichean representations (the cold huddled poor of the immigrants/ the enthusiastic cruelty of border guards) simplify a complex geo-political situation in order to promote liberal narratives. I mean, brutal depictions such as a pregnant woman being thrown against a high barbed wire fence to catch upon the steel splinters, scramble and fall hard to miscarry, would be comforting to sack off as hyperbole. Because you don't want it to be true to life, to what is happening right now to certain people in certain parts of the world as you watch in luxurious safety otherwise (serendipitously, as I write, Pride Caerphilly is going on outside my window. I've already popped out to see the parade, all the people wearing rainbows - good fun. In Green Border, one Iranian lad, heterosexual and married, is, upon pain of death, fleeing his country due to neighbourhood gossip of gay rumours).

Green Border review

Because, the events depicted in Green Border are happening. At the start of the decade, president Alexander Lukashenko permitted the admission of refugees into Belarus: not necessarily as an act of humanity, but as a way of winding up the EU, a body which Lukashenko rejects due to various sanctions inconveniencing his dictatorship. The idea is that refugees - people fleeing political instability, persecution and war - will enter Poland via the Białowieża Forest (the titular "green border"), an objective which causes problems for both Brussels and Poland. In Green Border, the fallout of such political pettiness - the "last European dictator" boasted that "we used to catch migrants in droves here - now, forget it, you will be catching them yourselves" - is represented via a triptych plot which in turn focuses upon the refugees making their way through the treacherous forest, a young Polish soldier charged with preventing their passage, and an academic who becomes involved with helping them.

Holland's narrative begins with claustrophobic focus on the migrants, and in-medias-res submersion into the dark forests (the monochrome cinematography of Tomasz Naumiuk adds a harrowing, documentary layer), and the struggle against their harsh elements. There are children, old people and pregnant women; all scared, tired and starved. We see the cruelty at the border, both in the ultimate refusal of entry, but also the straightforward brutality of the Polish guards: at one point a soldier smashes a flask and throws it to a spragniony migrant. As the poor guy chokes on the broken glass, another soldier looks on in incredulity: how did we get here? Poland is apparently fuming with its portrayal in the film, but Holland steadfastly argues that the representations are carefully researched and rooted in reality. In her seventies, Holland is not only a masterful filmmaker (note how the shots fluently move from objective tableaus to intimate, handheld terror, along with the compulsive pacing of the film's near epic length), but one who is still deeply motivated. Green Border is a film which is driven not only by a sense of disgusted injustice, but an unflinching purpose to examine the human responsibility of this ongoing context.

Green Border review

Thus, Jan (Tomasz Włosok) is a young soldier with a pregnant wife. His daily briefings consist of spurious vilifications of the people at the border. He is told that they are "live bullets," that they "blow smoke in the eyes of children to make them cry’." It's a bit "they insist on being placed at the Captain's Table," but not funny at all: being a solider means a hundred percent assumption of the given ideology, and, Milgram militarism aside, if you turn on the TV at any given point in the UK atm you'll see a dangerous, milkshake splattered gobshite loping back from a failed attempt at paydirt in the USA spouting similar nonsense. People believe it - scapegoats give us an identifiable villain. Although, as Jan experiences a full-on reality which contrasts the dogma, it might turn out that he isn't too far gone... The film gives yet further hope via Julia (the striking Maja Ostaszewska), a therapist who falls into activism: living on the border, she witnesses the death of a child, which understandably radicalises her. As she is victimised by the authorities Julia's narrative is one of compromise and paranoia, wherein she experiences another form of persecution.

Green Border review

Now envisioned as "the enemy" in this conventionalized framework, Julia is stripped by police, chased down, forced to explain her whereabouts when she is driving. These are portrayed as actions which are lazy enactments of authoritative power, a dynamic which has characterised this area. Green Border seems to suggest that this cruelty, a willing cleave to ideology, is a way of abdicating responsibility. Why else would soldiers so automatically beat children and pensioners? By sublimating our humanity, we forgo the pain of our actions. To wit, Holland's film has a recurrent motif of pregnancy, directly reminding us of the next generation of innocence that will inherit this awful world. Is there hope for the future? It would seem not. A caption at the end of Green Border states that "in Spring 2023 people are still dying at the Polish-Belarusian border."

Green Border is in UK/ROI cinemas from June 21st.

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