MEDITER­RANEA, drama, not rated, in French, Ital­ian, English, Ara­bic, and Bissa with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Jonas Carpig­nano’s timely and rev­e­la­tory film puts a hu­man face on the con­tem­po­rary cri­sis of il­le­gal im­mi­grants and refugees des­per­ate for a bet­ter life. That the prin­ci­pal face be­longs to a charis­matic new­comer named Koudous Sei­hon adds enor­mously to the film’s ap­peal.

Sei­hon plays Ayiva, who with his best friend, Abas (Alas­sane Sy), makes the per­ilous jour­ney from the poverty and hor­rors of their Burk­ina Faso home­land to Italy in search of work. They sur­vive de­hu­man­iz­ing con­di­tions, parched desert sands, ban­dits, un­scrupu­lous traf­fick­ers, and a ter­ri­fy­ing sea voy­age in which they’re packed into a boat like their African an­ces­tors in the holds of slave ships, and told as they are shoved out into the Mediter­ranean that they will be pi­lot­ing the rick­ety ves­sel them­selves. The ter­ri­fy­ing storm they en­counter at sea is cre­ated with min­i­mal pro­duc­tion and en­ter­pris­ing edit­ing.

But get­ting there is only half the fun. Once they reach the promised land of Cal­abria, from whence rel­a­tives have posted rosy Face­book ac­counts of op­por­tu­nity, they come up against the re­al­i­ties of racism, star­va­tion wages, an un­wel­com­ing pop­u­lace, and the near-im­pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting ex­tended res­i­dence per­mits.

The two friends are a study in con­trast. Abas is sullen and re­sent­ful of the un­wel­com­ing con­di­tions. Ayiva rolls with the punches, keeps a ma­ture, pos­i­tive out­look, and finds ways to turn mea­ger op­por­tu­ni­ties to slight ad­van­tage. And he does it with a warm, gen­er­ous per­son­al­ity that makes him a plea­sure to be around.

One of those who ap­pre­ci­ates him is Rocco (Da­vide Schip­il­liti), an or­ange grove owner who hires Ayiva and finds him ex­tra work, even ten­ta­tively ac­cept­ing him as a friend. But when Ayiva pre­sumes on their re­la­tion­ship to ask for help get­ting his res­i­dency pa­pers, Rocco puts him off with a non-an­swer about his grand­fa­ther’s ex­pe­ri­ence em­i­grat­ing to Amer­ica.

Mediter­ranea is a sort of African Grapes of Wrath, trans­ported to a mod­ern world of cell­phones and so­cial me­dia. The mi­grants up­root their lives and go in search of a way to sur­vive and make a liv­ing, but they dance and sing along to Ri­hanna MP3s, and Ayiva keeps in touch with home by Skyp­ing with his seven-year-old daugh­ter, who he has left be­hind with his sis­ter.

Carpig­nano paints a trou­bling pic­ture of the des­per­ate lot of peo­ple forced into in­hos­pitable, alien cir­cum­stances, and builds to an erup­tion of violence based on ri­ots that took place in Cal­abria in 2010. The young Ital­ian-Amer­i­can di­rec­tor lets his nar­ra­tive drift in places, and it can be a strug­gle to stay with it. Cin­ema is a lan­guage, and it’s pos­si­ble to speak it force­fully with­out al­ways speak­ing it flu­ently. But he has a lot to say. — Jonathan Richards

Sea change: inset, Koudous Sei­hon and Alas­sane Sy

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