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