IN THIS WORLD

Directed by Michael Winterbottom. UK. 2002.


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Michael Winterbottom is one of England's most versatile and prolific filmmakers. His films range from well made and acted costume dramas like Jude by Thomas Hardy, with an excellent Christopher Eccleston; Welcome To Sarajewo, a feature shot in Bosnia in documentary fashion with handheld DV (digital video) cameras, based on the real life story of ITN reporter Michael Nicholson adopting an Bosnian orphan; to Wonderland, a fascinating portrait of young people living in Nineties London, dealing with modern problems like work, relationships and cosmopolitan alienation.

Winterbottom (1961) started his career in film as an editor for Thames Television. After that he assisted Lindsay Anderson on a 1986 Free Cinema episode in the British Cinema series. Then he made two documentaries on the Swedish Master Ingmar Bergman. In 1994 he made his debut feature Butterfly Kiss, a road movie played by two girls behaving badly, Amanda Plummer and Saskia Reeves, which is all about crime and passion.

At the 2003 Berlin Film Festival Michael Winterbottom won the Golden Bear for Best Film with his dramatised documentary In This World. A remarkable road movie following two Afghan boys, Jamal and Enayat, going on their journey from a Pakistani refugee camp on the Afghanistan border to Kilburn in London. Shot on digital video and transferred to widescreen 35mm format, you get the impression that you are travelling with them on their quest for a better life. On their way to England they have to overcome a lot of obstacles, like dodgy refugee smugglers who ask a fortune for their services and policemen who can only be bribed by giving away their walkman. We see the guys travelling in all sorts of ramshackle vehicles, sometimes completely blocked-in by boxes of oranges or risking their lives hanging underneath a heavy lorry. 

Occasionally they are surprised in a positive way; by a young boy in Teharan, for instance, who gives them new shoes. In the beginning we hear a short voice over giving general information about the 14 million political and economical refugees in the world, 1 million of these are living in a camp in Peshawar, where our two main characters are coming from.

In This World. All rights reserved.

Then In This World simply shows the journey of the two boys and observes with a sharp eye the local cafes, mountains, scenery, football-playing children, the beauty and hardship on people's faces. It's done in an utterly cinematic and involving way. The shaky journey in the cars are intercut with moments of silence and reflection, by focussing on the boys looking out of the window or enjoying the view from their rest place. This gives the film the right flow and rhythm. 

We travel with Jamal and Enayat and get an idea how it is to be constantly on your guard. Towns we pass are Quetta, Tehran, Istanbul, Trieste, Paris, Sangatte and London. At the last part of the story something tragic happens similar to the death of Tamil refugees who died in a lorry recently coming to the UK, because of a lack of oxygen. When Jamal arrives in London you can see the hope in his eyes, but soon this evaporates, because of the cold and indifferent approach of the British bureaucrats. 

Jamal and Enayat - In This World. All rights reserved.Comparable to Pavel Pawlikowski's excellent film Last Resort which deals with the same injustice and carelessness. This anti-immigrant xenophobia inspired Winterbottom to make this sober, beautifully observed and essential film. In This World, which comes across so straightforward and subtle, must have been a hell of a job to organise by producers Andrew Eaton and Anita Overland. Logistically it must have been very difficult to shoot in so many different countries that each have their own rules and regulations. 

As for the meaning of the title, I can't tell you that without giving away too much of this brave film, so you should see it for yourself. 

Jaap Mees

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