Europa is about a teenage Iraqi boy trying to reach Europe. I read the film’s synopsis and was immediately interested, but also had a bit of hesitancy about sitting down to watch it, coz I knew it was going to be brutal. And it is, it’s about how traumatising the whole thing is.

I think when you see some people talk about migration in the media, they talk about returning migrants in light tones, like folk are getting off a comfy flight at Gatwick and being told their holiday is cancelled and they’ve to turn around and get back on the next flight home. And yes, that’s usually because the person speaking is deliberately trying to deny, downplay and outright misrepresent the migrant experience for reasons that are about power and racism. But I also think one of the reasons they do that is because the reality is so far removed from their experience, that is the closest thing from their own lives they can imagine. And that goes also for the people who they are trying to talk to, ordinary people in Europe, who have never had to run for their lives to another continent, and have few similar life experiences they can equate it to.

Which is to say, it is wonderful to see a film which is so visceral, that it blows away all that crap. You follow the main character, seeing over his shoulder, or watching his face as he deals with this run for his life. This is not a film with wide shots of open vistas, you can only see as far as the main character can. You have no idea where he is, just as he has no idea where he is. You hope he’s going in the right direction, but you don’t know, and the whole time you have no idea what to expect with every step.

You feel this film in your body. There’s very little dialogue, as keeping quiet and undetected is vital to survival, so scenes are made gripping by conveying the bodily experience. The main character’s hypervigilance, flinching at every sound or movement at the camera edge. His breathing heavy and ragged as he runs, or stifled and controlled as he hides. His utter exhaustion that causes drops to black. His thirst, his hunger, his cuts, his bruises. The difficulty of having to scale mossy rock or drag your way up crumbling stone. Everything feels insurmountable, when tested against nothing but human skin.

The film is set near the Turkish-Bulgarian border, so the terrain is rocky, leafy wood. For me watching it, it’s the kind of landscape associated with gentle walks, something benign. Normally if you are watching someone flee for their life in a hostile landscape, it doesn’t look like that. But Europe is a hostile land, where people like this teenage boy die every day, and it is treated as of no consequence. This is a place where he is a stranger, whose life is worth very little. From border police, to far-right militia patrols, to the local populace, the very sight of him brings the possibility of death.

The idea of enduring all that, knowing at any point he might be caught and returned, that all this horror, trauma and fear, might be for nothing . . . Europa is a film that tries to give people some idea of what this does to people, what it is we are talking about when we talk about returning migrants. It is a brutal film, but one with such a vital job of making seen that which, by its nature, must remain unseen to survive. Excellent movie.

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