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Come and See: The Green Border

Posted by September 30th, 2023 3 Comments »

The Green Border (2023)
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Starring Jalal Altawil, Mia Ostaszewska, Beni Djanati Atari and Thomas Wlosok

As seen at the 42nd Annual Vancouver International Film Festival

A drop in the bucket. Is that what any of our altruistic efforts amount to? Is “a drop in the bucket” the impact made by a brilliant film like The Green Border? Is it even worth it to do the right thing when the challenges seem so overwhelming? Is it even worth it to make a film that delivers a visceral, compassionate story about something that is happening right now? I hope so.

They say that time heals all wounds. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, but it sure helps when we can view on screen atrocities as bygones from previous eras of humanity. When Elem Kilmov fictionalized the Nazi occupation of Belarus in 1985 with Come and See, it had been 40 years. When it comes to The Green Border, the human rights atrocities that are the backdrop for the film’s powerful narrative not only happened recently, but they also continue to happen today. In that regard, the film serves as a reminder that there’s no time for patting ourselves on the back while history repeats itself at borders across the globe.

The Green Border is a once-in-a-generation film in regards to direction, script, lighting, art direction, sound design and acting. What makes it so singular is its ability to look at a very current conflict – the depraved limbo zone of a border between Belarus and Poland for refugees from the Middle East seeking entry to the EU – in narrative form, through the actions and emotions of characters representing multiple sides of this very complex situation. It’s not a documentary, but never once did I feel like I was watching actors. The camera work made me feel like I was among very real human beings, hearing dogs barking and people yelling at me in a language I didn’t understand. Resting my blistered feet as helicopters whirred above me. Desperately trying to find a cell signal to drop a pin for aid workers.

The Green Border isn’t a war film, it’s a film about how war can uproot families, destabilize regions and ultimately be used as propaganda to turn the hearts of people against human decency. Tonally, though, the tension in this brilliant film from accomplished Polish director Agnieszka Holland ((Spoor (2017), Charlatan (2020)) most reminds me of two excellent war films: the aforementioned Come and See (1985) and Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 Italian neorealist film The Battle of Algiers, set during the Algerian war against the occupying French government.

Unlike The Battle of Algiers and Come and See, The Green Border shows us a 360-degree view of the crises and those impacted by it – the refugees, the police and military operations on both sides of the border, as well as the activists trying to make as many drops in the bucket as they can. Holland even gives us a glimmer of hope with a scene that captures a cross-border connection between a younger generation of European, African and middle eastern teens. It’s a scene that illustrates a generation ready to move away from bigotry and hate.  

I am big on Optimum Immersion and I had the extreme pleasure and pain of viewing this film with no prior knowledge of the plot, so I will afford you the same courtesy and just tell you that it captured my attention within moments, engaged me throughout its two and a half hour runtime and delivered an enormous emotional impact… exactly what I want a film to do.

If you’re at VIFF this week, please take the same journey on Sunday, October at 5 p.m. at the Park Theater in Vancouver. And please know that even if you watching this emotional masterpiece may be just a drop in the bucket in bringing awareness to the plight of these refugees, it may also soften your heart to add more than a drop to the bucket that needs filling for the plight of immigrants and the less fortunate in your own country, region and community.

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