The issue of what to do with illegal immigrants continues to be a hot
topic in France and in his latest film on the subject director Romain
Goupil comes close to likening the treatment of the so-called sans-papiers
to the rounding up of
Jews in France during the Occupation. That the film was released
just a few months after Rose Bosch's La
makes this parallel almost self-evident and gives it
added bite, making it a forceful, if not downright provocative, attack
on President Sarkozy's controversial initiatives to deal with economic
migrants. The fact that the main (pro-immigration) character in
the film is played by Sarkozy's own sister-in-law Valeria
Bruni-Tedeschi brings a certain piquancy to the film (and doubtless led
to some ructions in the Sarkozy household).
Les Mains en l'air
has noble aims - to make us aware of the human consequences of the kind
of anti-immigration measures which are becoming increasingly prevalent
in the west. Will we, in sixty years' time, look back on this
present era with the same shame and revulsion that we now feel for the Nazi
Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda? The injustice and
inhumanity that are meted out to economic migrants by supposedly
civilised nations are brought into sharp relief when the situation is
presented from a child's perspective. The problem with the film
is that it does not adopt an exclusively child's point-of-view, but
instead flits between the world of the child and the world of the
adult and consequently fails to deliver a coherent picture of migrant
persecution, nor one that the audience can readily engage with.
A more serious failing of the film is that it does not offer a
convincing portrayal of the way in which young children behave.
Without exception, all of the child protagonists appear to acting either as
proto-adults or as the kind of stereotypical brats beloved by the
writers of sitcoms and soap operas. The fact that in several
scenes the children speak lines (often mechanically) that only an adult
could understand, let alone speak, does little to endear them to the
audience and seriously undermines the film's credibility. The
keen naturalistic edge that Romain Goupil manages to achieve with his
unfussy mise-en-scène and documentary-tinted cinematographic
style is pretty well undermined by the grim artificiality of the
characterisation, and this credibility gap merely exposes the Manichean
shallowness with which Goupil tries to tackle a complex and sensitive
issue. Whilst the film does have considerable value in prompting
us to reflect on one of the great social themes of our time, it
struggles to engage our sympathies and, as a piece of drama, feels too
superficial and vague to have much of an impact.
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