Barzakh is the Islamic realm of limbo. A fitting title for this film, showing boys living on the rocks around Melilha, a Spanish city on African soil. They wait for an opportunity to cross to Europe, in hope of finding a better life.
Firstly, this movie is called limbo, so take that as your queue for its pacing. This is not going to be a movie about events and conclusions, entirely the contrary. This film forces you to sit and wait with these kids, see how their life is slipping away in this nothingness.
It is entirely shot at night. The boys sleep or hide during the day, only to come out at night under cover of darkness. They live in this lightless world, always yearning, singing and praying about gaining passage to “the country of light”.
The film is set in the rocks and cliffs around the harbour, where these boys wait for a chance to sneak onto a boat. Melilha is an ancient city. Steps are carved into the rocks. A lookout tower rises like a Biblical obelisk. The walls are built of piled stone right on the cliff face. Watching it, I thought it looked medieval, but the city is actually thousands of years old. A place completely timeless.
The rocks are porous, brittle-looking, as though they might crumble in your grip. Everything is sea blasted, worn and weathered by the wind. The land looks like merely the crust of the sea.
The boys live in an endless night upon these rocks, trying to light fires to stay warm and fish with thread-thin string for something to eat. There, they try to keep their hope alive, singing and praying. Occasionally they will pass the time with a game if someone finds cards or an old football. But mostly they wait, counting down their time before they turn 18, the only currency they have is their youth, to reach Europe as an unaccompanied minor.
You look at these young boys and think of how you’ve seen them portrayed in the news. They are exactly who is held up an example of who ‘we’ don’t want coming here, young, Islamic, Arabic-speaking men, sneaking illegally into the country. The media portrays them with such suspicion, as potential threats.
They’re fucking kids. What were you doing at 17? Sitting your Highers? Trying to figure out how to get into uni? Trying to ask out your crush? That’s all these boys want, a normal life, with a chance of a good future. Instead they are huddled on barren rock, trying to kindle a fire to keep warm.
These silhouetted figures on this brutal landscape, it reminds me of nothing so much as Gustave Dore drawings. Barzakh really is an appropriate title. It looks like the last spit of land at the end of the world, haunted by lost souls crying out to God.