These are hectic hours for Haider Rashid, who with his new film is at the Cannes Film Festival: Europe (this is the title), very powerful and visceral, was selected in the prestigious “Quinzaine des Réalisateurs” section and was screened as a world premiere on July 14, winning the “Beatrice Sartori Award”, an independent critic’s prize. The talented Florentine director (born in 1985, Iraqi father and Italian mother) continues his personal research: his works have often dealt with the theme of identity, focusing on migration and second generations. His previous Sta per piovere (2013) was the first Italian film to address the issue of Ius Soli, while No Borders (2016) was the first Italian documentary to be made in Virtual Reality.
Europa, whose shooting lasted just 18 days, faces head-on the epochal tragedy of the arrival of migrants in the Old Continent, a “market” run by criminal organizations that work in complicity with border police forces and high-ranking government officials . Migrants, in search of safety and dignity, are abused by these representatives of the law who subject them to violence and intimidation, pushing them back beyond the European borders. The forests along these borders are also patrolled by organized groups of nationalist civilians who call themselves ‘Migrant Hunters’. Kamal, a young Iraqi who is entering Europe on foot across the border between Turkey and Bulgaria, along the so-called Balkan route, is rejected along with other migrants by the Bulgarian border police. Some of them are killed, others captured, but he manages to escape. Although wounded, he will look for a possible way out in a large forest, in a feral world where rules and law do not exist.
“The idea came from reading about the real-life experiences of migrants crossing the border between Turkey and Bulgaria and the conversations that followed with various people – explains Rashid – Bulgaria is the country my father went to when he escaped from Iraq to Europe in 1978. Although his journey was different from the one the protagonist of the film undertakes, somehow it seemed even more important to tell this story. My desire was to avoid any kind of rhetoric and pietism and to focus on the character, both narratively and in terms of the relationship with the camera. I wanted the audience to know the protagonist enough to feel empathy towards him, but not too much, so that this was not just the story of one person, but of the many who have lived this horrible experience, sometimes without making it ».
«When the project started – he continues – we carried out inspections in Bulgaria and I was able to meet migrants, former public officials, and human rights lawyers on the ground, also visiting the forest and the area that are the theater of history. In this phase of the project, even more dark and gruesome sides of the migration issue emerged and the film evolved. The very high level of corruption has made us understand that the smuggling of migrants is even more profitable than that of drugs. The people themselves do it. It was necessary to bring the story of the film in this light ».
Europa is an unthinkable film without the performance of its protagonist and the moral gaze of the camera and, as in No Borders, the approach to the character is very immersive: “As for the main part, that of Kamal, the goal was to find a actor who could understand the sense of loss and disorientation that I wanted to represent on an emotional level – explains Rashid – The choice fell on Adam Ali, whose face resembled that of silent film actors, who were able to represent a story only with expressiveness. He often had to face considerable physical and emotional challenges during filming, without ever making use of stunts. ”
Filming in July 2019 in Tuscany, in a wild wood called Alpe della Luna, near Arezzo: “The inspections lasted several weeks, since it was important to find a place that corresponded to the original Bulgarian forest and that of the Alpe della Luna was revealed identical in terms of terrain, trees and plants. Wild nature and realism have been privileged over logistical practicality, because extreme situations are those closest to the realities we have tried to tell. I want the film to be a physical experience for the viewer, also from the point of view of sound. If you do not work on the contrast it is difficult for the public to approach the story of a stranger and feel it as close. Instead, Europe is a film designed and made to ask questions. Everything you see has happened in reality, continues to happen, not only on the border between Turkey and Bulgaria or Greece, but also in the Mediterranean, in the sea between Libya and Italy with the Libyan coast guard, or on the border between Italy and France with the neo-fascists who go hunting for migrants, thanks also to a climate of profound hatred fomented by politics. And I fear that it will happen again, as long as national and European institutions continue to turn away. The title, Europa, is also a call to responsibility ”.