Prolific British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom adds to his impressively diverse oeuvre with this harrowing account of two Afghan refugees' passage to the West in search of a better life.
The movie opens at a refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, where Afghans have sought refuge in the wake of the U.S. military campaign in their country following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The story follows Jamal, an orphaned teenager, and Enayat, his older companion, as they make their way from Pakistan to London.
Traveling in the back of trucks, by bus, and on foot, the two cross Central Asia in an arduous journey punctuated by encounters with hostile border guards and shady smugglers.
Even more traumatic is the ocean voyage from Turkey to Italy, during which Jamal and Enayat are forced to hide in a shipping container with other asylum seekers, including a terrified infant. Winterbottom shot the movie vérité-style on digital video, and the smudgy look and quick cutting betray the movie's guerrilla roots.
Enhancing its raw veneer is Winterbottom's reliance on improvised dialogue and non-actors. A stirring work of advocacy, this flawed but wrenching film won the Golden Bear at the 2003 Berlin Film Festival.