Friday, June 28, 2024

A heartbreaking look at refugees

   Polish director Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa) takes us to the Polish/Belarusian border in GreenBorder, a gripping look at Syrian refugees desperate to escape their war-torn country.
  Holland avoids the kind of hand-wringing that could have resulted from portrayal of a fraught and polarizing moment, smartly shifting our attention to different aspects of a complex problem.
  — We meet and empathize with a Syrian family — a grandfather, husband, wife, and three kids — who hope to reach Sweden, where they already have a relative.
  —- We’re appalled by the brutality the family faces at the hands of Polish border guards who treat them like a virus that must be prevented from spreading.
   — We also meet a border guard whose wife is pregnant. He represses his conscience so that he can do his job. 
   — We’re introduced to activists who help the refugees at great personal risk. A psychiatrist joins a cause that could bring criminal charges. The activists seem to have as many failures as successes.
   Holland imbues most of her characters with humanity, a choice that works against any temptation to adopt holier-than-thou attitudes toward what we’re seeing.
   The most moving part of the film involves the Syrian family that’s fleeing ISIS. They’ve been misled to think that they’ll find allies in Belarus.
    Dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko offered safe passage to Syrian refugees, but his real intention was to disrupt EU countries by flooding them with desperate migrants.
    Belarusian soldiers push the refugees through razor-wire fences bordering Poland. Polish border guards catch them and force them back into Belarus. At times, the guards throw fleeing refugees over the fence.
  A Syrian boy named Nur (Taim Arian) becomes a focal point of sadness when he’s separated from his family during a border “pushback” from Poland to Belarus.
   Refugees live in a state of sustained fear and panic. They frantically use their cell phones for navigation or to contact relatives who have promised help.
   All of this takes place in the cold and rain with characters on all sides caught in a forest nightmare. 
  The Polish government condemned Holland’s film. Perhaps it should have watched more closely. Holland clearly empathizes with refugees, but she’s presenting a comprehensive portrait of Poles who are trying to deal with an impossible situation. 
   Holland concludes with an epilogue in which she shows Ukrainian refugees arriving in Poland after the Russian invasion. They are greeted warmly by some of the same guards who tormented Syrian refugees, leaving little question that race played a role in the Polish response to some of the refugees.
    Green Border begins with an aerial view of the forest where much of the story will unfold. As the camera glides over the forest, the image fades from color to black-and-white but Holland never takes a black-and-white approach to storytelling. Her movie dramatizes the plight of refugees, but it's also a thought-provoking look at the struggle to retain humanity under extreme conditions.
   Undeniably harsh and sometimes difficult to watch, Green Border is a rarity, a movie that doesn't give up on humanity, even in the face of so much heartbreak and wreckage.

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