Showing great skill, writer and director Agnieszka Lukasiak takes only seconds to portray the poverty, seediness and desperation of Belarus and within that landscape, the depressing and abusive life of Marta and her daughter Ania. Unbelievably, things rapidly take a turn for the worse when Ania is abused then threatened with child prostitution, and Marta has to urgently take matters into her own hands to escape, making a return to Belarus impossible under threat of a mafia death.
Smuggled to Sweden, Marta and Ania are placed clinically into a holding camp by the on-site team, and are overwhelmed by the desperation of the existing multi-cultural residents, all escaping their own personal hells, some of whom have been waiting for years to reside in Sweden officially. However, despite the camp’s mortifications, the stunning shots of Swedish scenery contrast harshly with the depression of Belarus.
In a situation where beauty is more of a curse and there are issues with trust, fear and hatred, it’s amazing to find such strength within characters that are facing an ongoing life in limbo without clear end. Knowing that, to some extent, aspects of this are based on reality is both depressing and eye-opening to the predicament that illegal immigrants find themselves in.
Marta’s increasing desperation and struggle to protect her daughter and prevent their deportation at all costs was fantastically and believably portrayed by Magdalena Poplawska – Poland’s answer to Cate Blanchett – a very difficult role to play as it includes some fairly graphic nudity and sexual scenes. Also of note, Kamila Nowysc (Ania), who has a promising career ahead of her, and the supporting characters of Anissa (Leila Haji) and Ali (Simon Kassianides – who plays a brooding, attractive stranger to perfection), both of whom, enduring their own desperate and personal struggles, are played affectingly and sympathetically.
The only thing I would question about this film is the necessity for extensive sexual scenes that are used to portray the desire, physical need and happiness of the couple – the passion, and brief snatch of joy in this terrible life, would as easily be displayed without some lengthy and graphic scenes – but this would be my only criticism of an otherwise excellent, although harrowing, film.
Filmhouse 3, 20 June 8pm, 23 June 9.30pm