Perhaps it is a case of timing, but I found Europa a spine-chilling viewing experience. On its own it’s an excellent example of minimum storytelling. But with the added real world context of the ongoing migrant crisis, especially with the recent horror we’re seeing in Afghanistan, the film becomes a whole new level of devastating. Movies like this prove Ebert’s sentiments on cinema being a generator of empathy correct.
Europa follows a group of Middle Eastern migrants attempting to cross the Turkish border into Bulgaria. However, while trying to enter under the cover of darkness, they are discovered and treated brutishly by Law enforcement, and criminal gangs hired by Law enforcement branded migrant hunters by the film. A young Iraqi man, Kamal (Adam Ali) escapes and flees into the forest. The film then follows Kamal as he struggles to survive and evade the migrant hunters intent on catching him.
Something so brilliant about Europa is how much it achieves with the bare minimum. It all takes place in one (albeit big) location, we’re watching one actor for most of its length, and barely any dialogue is uttered at all. Yet the filmmaking decisions utilised by director/co-writer Haider Rashid and his team generate something so raw in suspense and emotion that you can barely breathe from the intensity.
We are treated to a wide spectrum of fast editing, harsh lighting and borderline voyeuristic close-ups as Kamal navigates his way through the forest. The greens and browns that we would normally associate with nature’s beauty are now the walls of an endless labyrinth as Kamal runs across countryside that he has no knowledge of. Every sound and movement Kamal makes is vital if he wants to avoid the people who will either send him back to the place he is trying to flee or, worse, kill him simply for wanting to enter their country. There is a gritty realism that wonderfully contrasts with the otherwise picturesque location.
It’s a strong character study too. It may not seem like it given its mostly visual choice of storytelling, but we learn a fair bit about Kamal, even though he rarely speaks and we don’t officially learn his name until the last third. He is resourceful, religious, and pacifistic; all elements of his personality that are revealed and challenged throughout the story via his actions. We may not learn much about his past, but the truth is we don’t need to. This is a young man being treated like an animal for simply seeking asylum – a universal human right. Add on the added context of the war torn homeland he is escaping and his treatment from the Europeans featured is even more disgusting.
When all is added up I feel the key themes of Europa are fear, perseverance and survival. It’s a tale of strength and courage in the face of titanic prejudice and hostile apathy, of which I argue the film attacks the real world equivalent of shocking anti-immigrant sentiment felt across all of Europe, not just here in Britain. Add on a simply stellar performance from Adam Ali – who achieves such gripping levels of empathy with mostly action and expression – and a hauntingly ambiguous ending, and you have a film that’s not only powerful but important too.
Europa is far from an easy watch. But I’d argue it’s a vital one given today’s world situation. It’s a triumph of moviemaking from Rashid and his crew, but it’s also a loud reminder for us not to forget our humanity. After all, once we lose our empathy we may as well be nothing.
Director: Haider Rashid
Writers: Haider Rashid & Sonia Giannetto
Starring: Adam Ali