Undertaking a 10-hour swim across the freezing English Channel without the proper equipment, training, or the right passport is not the brightest idea, but 17-year old Bilal is desperate.
Bilal (Firat Ayverdi) wants to reunite with his girlfriend in Great Britain, but is stuck in Calais, a port city in northern France.
Welcome, directed by Philippe Lioret, is a fictional story, but it has a ring of truth; over 1,500 migrants enter Great Britain illegally from Calais each year.
Bilal, an immigrant from Kurdistan, Iraq, has tried everything to get across the English Channel, including hiding as a stowaway on a cargo truck. After getting caught, he has no other way but to swim across to England. He enlists the help of Simon Carlat (Vincent Lindon), a skeptical but kind hearted swimming coach. Carlat has problems of his own, he is in the middle of a divorce from his humanitarian wife Marion (Audrey Dana) and although he first helps Bilal to impress his wife, the two become unlikely friends. Through Bilal, Carlat learns the power of tolerance, love, and courage in the face of discrimination.
Welcome is honest, powerful, and surprisingly not preachy with its message. The camera is invisible (you forget that you are watching fiction) and the instrumental soundtrack is heartbreaking and beautiful. The cast is equally impressive, especially considering that this is Ayverdi’s first film.
The ironically titled Welcome may be a tearjerker, but it also has exceptional political timing. It so happens that French authorities raided a shelter near the Calais port, housing 700-800 illegal immigrants, in September.
The only downside is the characters mostly speak in lightning speed Parisian French and occasionally in Kurdish (with French subtitles), which may pose a problem for out-of-towners and English speaking Montrealers. Grab a bilingual friend and head on over to the festival, because Welcome is a must see.
Welcome screens at Cinema ImpÃ©rial on Friday Nov. 6 at 12 p.m. and Saturday Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.