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Philippe Lioret Welcome Critique Essay

Philippe Lioret’s 2009 film Welcome is “a compelling social drama” (1) about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers who arrive illegally in Calais, a city in northern France that has become a transit point for those hoping to cross into the United Kingdom. In the course of its gripping story line and realistic camera work, Welcome powerfully dispels the fantasy of a hospitable Europe which welcomes the displaced with open arms. Instead, it captures disturbing scenes of xenophobia, police brutality, and racial intolerance. In its critique of French immigration laws that serve as the new apparatus for racial discrimination, Welcome also advances the claim that the humanitarian crisis of what recent European discourse calls the “new migrants” is due, in part, to the ambivalence of the local French population.

Heavily invested in the socio-realist documentary style, Lioret’s cinematic narrative expresses his concern about a Front Nationalist government gone wild and the propagation of French politics that vilifies migrants, hates former colonial subjects, legalizes discrimination, excludes those who are in need, alienates les Beurs, constrains possibilities of assimilation, and dehumanizes refugees and asylum seekers. The film illuminates the stark contradictions between moral codes, laws of the republic, and the unrestrained powers of French authority to marginalize citizens and foreigners. Grappling with the discomforting theme of the public’s disconnect from the political sphere, the anxiety about ethnocentric fanaticism, and the violations of basic human rights, “Lioret’s movie […] is drawn from real events” (2) and critiques how the government packages its law-breaking measures (3) in the name of “law and order, l’insécurité, an issue that has been exploited by the extreme-right Front National (FN)” (4).

With its emphasis on French political discourse and cultural transformation, the film’s subtexts provoke reflection on the structural changes to France’s immigration laws that began in the 1980s. As France’s need for unskilled labour diminished, laws packaged in nationalist rhetoric began restricting entry into the country, as well as employment and residency. France has modified these laws more frequently than any other European country, holding “a record for legislative change in the area of immigration. Major reforms were passed in 1980, 1984, 1987, 1989, 1993, 1997, and most recently in 1998.” (5)

Supporting the nationalist obsession with the De Gaullian promise of “la France aux français”, the preserving of France exclusively for the French and concurrent nurturing of xenophobic sentiments in the shadow of all these immigration initiatives, a new cultural attitude has shifted the debate on immigration, asylum, miscegenation, and the multicoloured ethnic composite of contemporary Europe. “Rather than being easily recognized as part of an overt racialist discourse, they are dislocated and disguised as part of a discourse on culture, social cohesion, integration, shared values, common heritage, and other similar rhetorical figures” (6). However, neither belligerent measures nor political spectacles eliminate the presence of the refugees nor undo the racially motivated police retaliation episodes inflicted on them. Yet these migrants survive despite the odds. In Welcome, the camera captures the refugee camp, the English Channel, and the invisible gaze of French police, permanently exposing a dislocated community constantly haunted by the technology of surveillance and the belief they can never truly hide.

Placing Welcome in historical-political context

The film captures scenes of migrants mostly in open spaces: the harbour, the ‘jungle’, and the city. Occasionally, French volunteers are seen setting up food kitchens, distributing meals and water, and interacting with migrants. Historically, these scenes place the narrative after the demolition of the Sangatte Refugee Centre near the Eurotunnel crossing in Calais, which was run by the French Red Cross from 1999 to 2002. “[D]esigned to hold 500, by 2001 the centre housed around 1500 refugees.” (7) Wandering migrants, human traffickers and the police became increasingly visible in Calais. The growth of illegal human trafficking led to tension between France and Britain over the refugees and the camp. Considered “an intolerable burden”, (8) the government authorized stings by the French riot police CRS to terrorize and punish these migrants. A concurrent discourse about migrants as ‘other’ was developing in France, combining a wave of xenophobic sentiment with a deliberate intention to connect migrants, criminal, and traffickers as potential enemies all alike. It went beyond the old “racist myths according to which immigrants bring disease and pollution to the body of the nation.” (9)

A similar sentiment was shared on the other side of the Eurotunnel. “In the eyes of the British bourgeoisie, a few thousand migrants fleeing war, poverty and repression and temporarily housed at the Sangatte transit camp on France’s northern coast should be treated as an enemy.” (10) As intended, this attitude meant to impact policies. In December 2002, British Home Secretary David Blankett and then French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy leveraged the events of September 11 to initiate searches of all trucks transiting from Calais and to close the Sangatte camp, “leaving the city of Calais without any structures offering food, shelter, and help to migrants.” (11) The stated goal was to deter others from coming to Calais. But the camp’s closure did not eliminate the migrant problem.

Almost a decade later, French Immigration Minister Eric Besson, who was outraged by Welcome and Philippe Lioret’s take on his policies, promised to “dismantle the jungle” (12) or more specifically, “the Pashtun jungle”. In the early morning hours of September 22, 2009, French authorities raided the migrant camp, bulldozed makeshift tents and arrested more than “270 migrants.” (13) Despite resistance and protest by such groups as SALAM, the Red Cross, and Forum Réfujiés, the cruelty of the state prevailed. In a celebratory tone, the Calais mayor, Natacha Bouchart, declared: “Sending the problem somewhere else is fine by me! After all we have been through for eight years!” (14) The French government justified its “cleansing” operation “rendering the Franco-British border impenetrable” (15) and thereby eliminate any possibility of successful border crossing and discourage any new migrants from arriving to Calais.

But why this overtly cruel and hostile attitude when France knows cameras are rolling and the world is capturing every move its agents make? It is possible that the French misread Giorgio Agamben’s description of the camps as “repressive regimes of incarceration” (16) that the authorities hoped to eliminate so fast, not anticipating that actually others would “take the camp itself as a social and political space created through social relations that are developed in and as a result of movement. Absent from an Agambian perspective is precisely an understanding of the camp as a sociopolitical space.”(17)

Lioret’s narrative astutely capitalizes on the “sociopolitical space,” cinematically transforming the whole of Calais–its forests, buildings, and institutions (court house, detention center, police department, grocery stores, and swimming pool)– to a site of sociopolitical activism. Calais goes from representing a port of safety for these migrants to a locale of enhanced insecurity, compounding over the desire and determination to cross into the UK regardless of the financial or physical costs.

Welcome’s backstory of one refugee’s deadly attempt to swim across the channel is based in fact. Henri Courau, a French Red Cross mediator and researcher on border crossings and the travel experiences of the Sangatte Camp migrants, tells this story: “In July 2002, French police contacted the Red Cross to inform them that they would be dropping someone off at the front door of the camp who should be looked after. ‘How will recognize him?’ asked a Red Cross official. ‘He will be totally wet’, the police officer responded.” (18)

The plot

Beyond the brutality of the Sangatte camp, Welcome’s narrative tells the astounding tales of the asylum seekers’ long journeys to the shores of Calais and the deadly risks of crossing the border into the UK. Check points, dedicated border patrol agents equipped with sophisticated surveillance technology, the CRS, dogs and CO2 human warmth detectors, have made that goal virtually impossible. Using the style of observational documentary, the camera visually captures the port de Calais, the highway, the trucks, the traffic, the semi-militarized border, the activity of the border police, the paraphernalia of surveillance, the weakened bodies of these wandering migrants, and the almost unattainable cliffs of Dover.

Among these seekers, Welcome tells the story of a 17 year-old Iraqi-Kurd named Bilal, (Firat Ayverdi), who arrives in Calais after travelling on foot for three months. Clueless about the difficulties that lie ahead, the film opens with his arrival in Calais. Determined to continue his journey and reunite with his fiancé, whose family moved to London, Bilal calls her home in London and tells her brother that he will be in London tonight or in the morning. He bumps into an acquaintance from his hometown, Zoran (Selim Akgül), who invites him to be smuggled by truck across the border. When the attempt fails, Bilal returns to Calais. Determined to now swim his way across the channel, he starts taking swimming lessons with Simon (Vincent Lindon), a former champion and swimming instructor at the local pool. A friendship develops between the two, which begins to transform Simon. Not only are they co-protagonists, their relationships are also juxtaposed. Simon’s wife Marion, ironically a Sangatte camp volunteer, is divorcing him; Bilal has walked across the world to reunite with the woman he loves. Pressured by the news that his beloved is being forced into an arranged marriage soon, he takes the plunge across the channel.

For the purpose of this review, my analysis now turns its focus on Simon. He represents the contemporary French man, who through his encounter with a migrant and cultural other, works out the details of his own multidimensional crisis, resolves the flaws and blemishes of his personality, and reclaims his position at the top of the power hierarchy. In looking at Simon, I will use the film to examine the relations between the “proper” French and the “other”, drawing in part on Douglas Kellner’s interpretive modes of social theory. Kellner’s “diagnostic critique…uses media culture to diagnose social trends and tendencies, reading through the texts to the fantasies, fears, hopes, and desires that they articulate. A diagnostic critique also analyzes how media culture provides the resources for producing identities and advances either reactionary or progressive politics–or provides ambiguous texts and effects that can be appropriated in various ways.” (19)

Welcome articulates the challenges in the making and remaking of identity constructions and reveals the desired continuity of certain aspects of the past and the necessity of retaining selected fragments that sustain the soundness of this continuity. I will show that the hierarchical positioning of the “other” is still a fundamental element in the way the French imagine themselves as I trace the steps of Simon’s awakening moral consciousness, his path to political disobedience, and the transformation of his attitude towards his wife, Marion, and migrants like Bilal from ambivalence to a sense of total dedication and benevolence.

Simon’s new benevolent behavior, seemingly benign acts, and new moral stand are not an indication of his understanding of the other’s misery but rather the product of his own anxiety, inner crisis, fragile moral grounds, and haunting emasculating forces that Louis Althusser labeled as “repressive state apparatus” that continue to constrain his will and ability to act freely. Lioret as an observer, in my opinion, uses the tragic conditions of the migrants to advance the narrative and help develop the plot. But just like Simon, he feels as paralyzed by the cruelty of the police and the policies. Beneath this realist dramatized migratory-story experience lies Lioret’s false consciousness and embedded ideology, the kind of ideology that Slavoj Zizek derivatively identifies from Marx’s statement “Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es” (“they do not know it, but they are doing it”). (20) Based on this position that characterizes ideology as “the misrecognition of its own presuppositions”, (21) I further argue, Welcome’s narrative becomes about negotiating Simon’s identity crisis that is anchored in a sense of triumph and moral superiority. Last, along the same line of interpretative strategies explained by Kellner that “[a]llegory has multiple dimensions of meaning and there is no claim to capture the real in a clear and straightforward way, although allegory may better capture, Jameson suggests, the complexities and ambiguities of a contemporary situation…”, (22) I suggest that closure of Simon’s identity crisis, exemplified by the failure of his marriage, and his dual roles as guardian for Marion (who may also symbolize France), and the European father figure for the former colonized and child other are renewed and confirmed. In the end, the classic hierarchical trilogy of subjectivities is reproduced placing all three characters in order according to their positions of power and worth: Simon, Marion, and Bilal.

The Archeology of Simon’s Power

Film viewers will learn little about what led to his failed relationship with Marion, other than the obvious juxtaposition between her role as a good Samaritan involved in helping feed migrants and educate children while he is completely indifferent to the immigrants’ plight. Appearing to ignore or be unaware of the political reality in Calais, Simon agrees to teach refugee Bilal how to swim. He initially appears unmindful of Bilal’s outrageous plan to swim the channel. As events unfold, Simon finds himself face to face with disturbing images of the migrants’ humanitarian crisis yet too consumed by his own problems and the pain of losing Marion to take action. When they meet by coincidence in a grocery store, he manages to stay composed, despite being informed of the upcoming finalization of their divorce.

As they are about to leave the store, they witness a scene of flagrant racism. Two migrants who want to buy food and soap are harassed and denied entry by a security guard, whose actions are backed up by the store’s management. Appalled by such behavior, Marion interferes on their behalf, confronts the security guard and his boss, and questions her husband’s silence. As though personifying the impotence of Calais, Simon does not and cannot contest the racism. Marion is stunned by Simon’s submissiveness to the system of discrimination. Eventually, she overcomes her frustration and stops engaging with him, as if implying this is not a new discussion. Before they part, Marion sets a time to pick up her books from Simon’s apartment.

For Simon, temporary escape from his problems is no longer possible. His world has just been shattered as the court hearing and signing the divorce papers brings reality home. The thought of losing Marion torments his soul. We watch him sleepless, chain-smoking, anxious, agitated and lonely, but never vulnerable. Around Marion, he quickly assumes his usual composure. The film’s rapid transitions between scenes can be also viewed as transitions between conflicts that are never resolved. Instead, they are suddenly interrupted either by delaying the resolutions or the introduction of murky sub-plots. Simon’s relationship with the investigating officer deteriorates, but he never actually gets arrested. Marion’s friend, Bruno, may be her admirer and Simon’s rival, but that is never confirmed. Lioret uses these devices to push the events forward.

As Simon ventures into the forays of unknown legalities by helping Bilal, the development of his character happens along an axis of regression for both Marion and Bilal. The more Simon is involved in Bilal’s life, the more his character gains in strength and the more Marion’s anxiety about him increases, the more her position as a political activist is weakened. She is no longer the dedicated and engaging activist. In several occasions, she urges Simon to be cautious; she warns him of police retaliation; she tells him about hostile police encounters with many volunteers who hosted migrants. While on the surface, this new attitude (helping without breaking the law) may reflect the position of a rational individual, it also casts doubt on Marion’s convictions and sincerity. Simon genuinely continues to offer help and friendship. Bilal’s friendship with him grows as does his dependency on Simon’s benevolence. With more time spent in Calais, the prospects of the dream to cross over into the UK become more distant and the dependency more certain.

Despite his frequent affirmations of love for Marion, Simon remains emotionally controlled around her. But his eyes appear to be engorged with tears the first time he confesses to Bilal about her absence, yet he apparently has never begged her to stay. As his crisis escalates, his creative skills are activated and he begins to strategize. The very next evening Simon brings Bilal and his friend Zoran to his apartment, hosts them, feeds them, and kindly offers them a place to sleep for the night. As they share dinner and conversation, Simon’s curiosity is triggered and loneliness reduced. They tell him about their plans and fantasies of the lives they hope to have in the UK. The impression is that his decision to pick them up is genuine and uncalculated. However, when Marion shows up in the morning and sees both migrants in the apartment his narrative changes. Desperate for a way to win her love back, Simon claims he has been helping them for a few days.

Like anyone in love and suffering from the painful separation from his/her lover, Simon has no problem making up a small lie or using the migrants to his advantage. His flaws are minor and deliberately constructed to make sense of his character’s development and growth. His mood swings and inability to control his temper, at times, are alarming but caused by a sense of uncertainty, sadness, confusion, and possibly guilt for using his involvement with the migrants to serve his own interest. In this context, the French press described Simon’s role as: “[l]e rôle d’un type qui change, qui se réveille et qui, en désespoir de cause, se met à aider”( “the role of a guy who changes, who is suddenly awakened, and from his own position of desperation starts to help.”) (23) Vincent Lindon (who plays Simon), himself admitted to critics that Simon is “un type qui se bouge par égoïsme” (“a guy who is motivated by a sense of selfishness.”) (24) Perhaps Lioret intended to create a defective character that is eventually able to rise above all these imperfections. Lioret seeks a transformation so believable and meaningful that the viewers are as sympathetic toward Simon as toward Bilal. To this end, the representation of Simon’s character as an ordinary guy, overwhelmed by his own dysfunctional relationship, and constrained by a repressive system that he learned to accept is very convincing. He is no radical or hero, but neither is he a racist.

The most appealing aspects of Simon’s personality are the sense of endurance, his determination to preserve his love, and his will to challenge repressive laws. All these qualities slowly overshadow Bilal’s story and give way to Simon’s exceptionality. The more he learns about Bilal’s plight, dreams, and dedication to his plan, the more the human connection. A father-son bond develops between them. Simon slowly begins to regain control over certain aspects of his life and the life of others, in particular Bilal. We see Simon coach Bilal, give him advice, feed him, clothe him, lodge him, scorn him, and once kick him out of the pool and once out of his apartment. What began as a selfish and desperate act to regain his wife’s love develops into a real transforming experience of self-criticism, self-discovery, and self-actualization. By the end of the film, themes like friendship, compassion, father-son bonding and even generosity have surfaced. As one critic puts it, “[u]ne générosité dont lui-même se croyait incapable” (“a generosity, he himself did not think was capable of offering”), (25) all emerge as the new qualities of a much more involved citizen, humanitarian, renegade, and good Samaritan who chooses common sense over unjust laws. Whether or not Bilal manages to cross the border, Simon crosses over from a position of total nonchalance onto a solid ground of moral responsibility and willing to challenge hostile public attitude and state laws.

Simon’s character’s development reaches the moment of realization when Bilal attempts to swim across the channel the first time. Distressed and panicked, Simon calls the coast guard to inform them of the swimmer, naming Bilal as his son. On a deeper ideological level, the narrative celebrates the image of the benevolent European father that frequently occurs in French cinematic stories dealing with immigrants and the other. For example, in Michou D’auber (Thomas Gilou, 2007), George (Gerard Depardieu) wins the love and admiration of the child Michou over the real Algerian father. In Welcome, Simon becomes the guardian for the naïve teenager, dreamer, and defenseless Bilal.

For Marion, Simon may become again a great suitor. His transformation into someone who will do the right thing regardless is both realistic and praiseworthy. Simon makes a startling confession hoping to protect Marion from the inspector’s threats, in effect sacrificing himself and his livelihood. Returning to the theme of social criticism, his claims about receiving a bribe and pedophilia are meant to reveal the French public’s dehumanizing categorization of the migrant as a sexual object. The film’s style here borders on that of the noir genre to show that the old and generic conventions about race relations still persist in French society in spite of its increasingly diverse ethnic fabric. At this point of the film, selflessness, sacrifice, and loyalty all become values of Simon’s symbolic triumph over racism, xenophobia, cruelty, selfishness, greed, and oppressive state laws. It becomes incredibly hard to grasp Marion’s decision to leave a man as gracious and brave as Simon. Thus, the horror of what happens next between Simon and Marion needs no elaboration. Simon’s ability to regain control over everything includes the person of Marion.

Further interpretation requires examining a few allegorical layers in Marion’s role. In one dramatic scene, Marion and la France are fused together to become one and the same. Marion is affectionate, humanitarian, compassionate, benevolent, loving, and caring, a mother figure for all these members of “coloured diasporas” and former colonial subjects. Likewise, France is clearly loved by its subjects, citizens, and men –Simon among them. In this scene, Simon’s narcissism vanishes. He breaks down, confesses his love and inability to operate without Marion. As he brings her closer and closer, she demands that he stop –twice.

The scene is gripping; the movements are fast-paced. They appear to have sex, with the line between consensual sex and rape blurred. At the end of the scene, the camera zooms in on her naked legs and captures a large tear dropping from her cheek. Lioret leaves ambiguous whether this was a moment of passion between a couple who clearly, at some point, loved one another or an incident of sexual assault. The absence of a discussion, a sign of affection or a nod of approval from Marion makes it more likely the latter. She informs Simon: “we should never see each other again”. Here, she is transformed from being one of the film’s active protagonists willing to speak out against injustice, to slowly adopting a supportive role. Her confidence is considerably shaken, her fear for Simon in his clash with the law greater, and her interaction with him more complex. By the film’s end, she appears more anxious and fragile.

Read allegorically, the rape scene is perhaps a critique of what right wing patriarchs are doing to the republic and its laws with their retaliatory migration agenda. Here, if Marion plays the role of activist and mother figure feeding the mostly male migrants, Simon must be willing to share her with them. Yet sharing France with the ‘other’ is an idea that French politics and politician find unacceptable, unless they are children who could be easily absorbed in the body of the nation, accept the French as the ultimate role model, and internalize the established power hierarchy.

Given the realist engagement of Welcome, it would be difficult to expect a happy ending. Yet the narrative closes with a few unrealistic presumptions. Marion appears to hint at a new beginning with Simon in the phone call as she asks him to return to Calais. Simon is a new man, changed like the war vet George, who, through his interaction with an Algerian youth moves from profound racial bigotry to advocating for racial diversity. This is at the other end of the spectrum – the illusion of a France and Europe free of the fear and the hatred of the other. The inspector becomes more interested in Simon and appears to be more sympathetic of Simon’s humanitarian intentions rather than berate him. In a sympathetic gesture, the inspector returns the gold medal and the wedding ring to Simon.

The reality on the ground in Calais is different. The French legal system has been aggressively targeting volunteers who aid these migrants. Helping them remains a serious violation “[…] punishable by up to five years in prison and a 30,000-euro fine.” (26) In the year the film was made, one such volunteer was arrested and interrogated because “she recharged cell phones for illegal migrants.” (27) To its credit however, the film prompted debate about the contradiction between the harshness of such laws and moral codes, particularly in such dire and exceptional circumstances.

Conclusion

In sum, the film Welcome closely mirrors France’s identity crisis. The French citizenry’s sense of impotence is manifested in their disconnect from the political arena and their passivity in the face of the implementation of draconian state laws. It resonates with a European political economy nostalgic for the heydays of past European empires, while carefully investing in reproducing reconciliatory fantasies about neocolonial relations of power that have been weakened by immigration and a more coloured heterogeneous Europe. This simplistic discourse reiterates subject positions, gives migrants very little choice of action, and reaffirms their inevitable dependency on European benevolence. While the only sovereignty that Bilal has at the end is his choice to swim to freedom or die, Simon manages to reinvent a new self which serves as a collective archetype for “proper” French men. In his transformation, Simon ultimately reveals Lioret’s false consciousness and the narrative’s embedded message: a celebration of the triumphalist European father figure.

Endnotes

  1. Bernard Besserglik, “Bottom line: drama touches raw nerve as swimmer aims for England or bust”, The Hollywood Reporter, March 25, 2009. <http://www1.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/film-reviews/welcome-film-review-1003955640.story>. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
  2. Richard Phillips, “Welcome from France: A compassionate exposure of anti-immigrant measures”, April 17, 2010. World Socialist Web Site <http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/apr2010/welc-a17.shtml>. Retrieved May 6, 2011.
  3. Random arrests, detention, police brutality, beating, denial of refugee status. “This reached a high point with the “zero immigration” policy of right wing interior minister Charles Pasqua, which, encouraged by racist rhetoric from the National Front of Jean Marie Le Pen, went so far as to deny legal status to foreign graduates accepting jobs already approved by French employers. Pasqua met with large scale opposition, culminating in the movements in support of the sans papiers [those without identity and work papers].” See, Steve James, “Sangatte camp exposes brutal French and British asylum policy”, 31 August 2001. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/aug2001/asyl-a31.shtml>. Retrieved March 20, 2011.
  4. Catherine Lloyd, “Anti-racism, racism and asylum-seekers in France”. Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 37, No. 3. Routledge, 2003, p. 330.
  5. Virginie Guiraudon, “Immigration Policy and Politics”, in Developments in French Politics, (Ed) Alistair Cole, Patrick Le Gales and Jonah Levy, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005.
  6. Yosefa Loshitzky, Screening Strangers, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010, p.11.
  7. Emine Fisek, “Le Dernier Cartoucherie: refuge and the performance of care”, Research in Drama Education. Vol. 13, No. 2, June 2008, p.206.
  8. James, op cit
  9. Loshitzky, p. 2
  10. James, op cit
  11. Josh Poirier, “Calais Calamity”. The New York Amsterdam News, December 14-20, 2006, p. 2
  12. “European Borders: Control, detention, and deportations” 2009/2010 report by NGOs members of Migreurop, p. 111. <http://www.statewatch.org/news/2010/nov/migreurop-annual-report-nov-10.pdf > Retrieved March 25, 2011>
  13. Sophie Louet, “La “jungle” de Calais évacuée et rasée”, 2009. <http://www.capital.fr/a-la-une/actualites/evacuation-de-la-jungle-de-calais-278-arrestations-436523?xtor=RSS-217>. Retrieved April 1, 2011>
  14. Migreurop-annual report, p.113
  15. Ibid, 112
  16. Cited in Kim Rygiel, “Bordering Solidarities: migrants activism and the politics of movement and camps at Calais”, Citizenship Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1, February 2011, p. 4
  17. Ibid.
  18. Henri Courau, “Tomorrow Inch Allah, Chance!’ People Smuggler Networks in Sangatte”, Immigrants and Minorities,Volume 22, Issue 2 & 3 July 2003, p. 385
  19. Douglas Kellner, Media Culture: cultural studies, identity, and politics between the modern and the postmodern, New York: Routledge, 1995, pp. 5-6.
  20. Slavoj Zizek, “Cynicism as a Form of Ideology”, in The Sublime Object of Ideology, London; New York: Verso, 1989, p. 28. < http://www.egs.edu/faculty/slavoj-zizek/articles/cynicism-as-a-form-of-ideology/. Retrieved May 1, 2011>
  21. Ibid.
  22. Kellner, p. 6
  23. François Guillaume Lorrain, “Lindon, à hauteur d’homme.” 2009 <http://www.lepoint.fr/actualites-cinema/lindon-a-hauteur-d-homme/903/0/323000 Retrieved April 9, 2011.
  24. Ibid.
  25. A. David, “La critique d’Excessif “. <http://www.excessif.com/cinema/critique-welcome-4708653-760.html> Retrieved April 9, 2011.
  26. Ibid.
  27. “Helping illegal immigrants a crime in France”, Associated Press, Mars 3, 2009. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29899231/ns/world_news-europe/t/helping-illegal-immigrants-crime-france/> Retrieved May 6, 2011
PARIS -- The subject of Philippe Lioret's compelling social drama "Welcome" is those who are not -- welcome, that is. The bitter irony of the title is evident from first to last in the story of a young Kurd who aims to swim to England and the swimming instructor who tries to help him get there.

The movie hit French screens trailing clouds of controversy after a government minister complained of its sympathetic view of illegal immigrants and those who give them aid or shelter. But Lioret hangs his polemic on a strong, simple story line that will engage audiences worldwide and appeal even to those who take a more restrictive view than the filmmaker on such issues.

Twenty-two miles of water -- the distance from Calais to Dover -- prevent Bilal (Firat Ayverdi), a young Iraqi Kurd, from rejoining his sweetheart, Mina (Derya Ayverdi), in England, where he dreams of becoming a famous professional footballer. Bilal is befriended by Simon (Vincent Lindon), a fiftysomething former swimming champion who works as an instructor at the Calais town pool. Simon agrees to train Bilal so that he can swim across the Channel.

Simon hopes in this way to impress and possibly win back his estranged wife, Marion (Audrey Dana), an English teacher who helps run an unofficial soup kitchen for the hundreds of illegal immigrants who cluster around the port, all of them hoping to smuggle themselves one way or another into England to seek a better life.

He soon finds himself in trouble not just with his uptight neighbors, who object to his offering Bilal shelter for the night, but also with a local police inspector (Olivier Rabourdin), who points out that he faces a possible prison sentence of up to five years if found guilty of aiding an illegal immigrant.

Lioret is able to achieve this seamless blend of the domestic and the social -- the hopeless situation of the immigrants is portrayed with near-documentary realism -- thanks to an impressive performance by Lindon, whose characteristic shamble and hangdog expression have rarely been put to better use.

Laurent Dailland's nighttime photography evokes the limbo in which the unwelcome visitors exist, while the contained performances and the sobriety of the score remind us that these are individual destinies at stake. The movie offers no simple solutions, nor even a feel-good ending, but throws a cold light on the human tragedy that underlies many of today's headlines.

Opened: March 11 (France)
Production company: Nord-Ouest Films

Cast: Vincent Lindon, Firat Ayverdi, Audrey Dana, Derya Ayverdi, Olivier Rabourdin, Thierry Godard, Mouafaq Rushdie
Director: Philippe Lioret
Screenwriters: Philippe Lioret, Emmanuel Courcol, Olivier Adam
Producer: Christophe Rossignon
Director of photography: Laurent Dailland
Music: Nicola Piovani, Wojciech Kilar, Armand Amar
Production design: Yves Brover
Editor: Andrea Sedlackova
Sales agent: Films Distribution
No rating, 110 minutes