(director/writer: Agnieszka Holland; screenwriters: Maciej Pisuk, Gabriela Lazarkiewicz; cinematographer: Tomasz Naumiuk; editor: Pavel Hrdlicka; music: Frederic Vercheval; cast: Jaial Altawil (Bashir), Maja Ostaszewska (Julia), Behi Djanati Atai (Leila), Tomasz Wiosok (Jan), Monika Frajczyk (Marta), Jasmina Polak (Zuku’), Mohamad Al Rashi (Grandpa), Malwina Buss (Kasia); Runtime: 147; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Marcin Wierzcholawski, Fred Bernstein; Metro Films; 2023-B/W-Poland, France, Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany, USA, Turkey-in Polish, Arabic, English, French with English subtitles)

“Its refugee story is tragic, timely and emotionally moving.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The renown 74-year-old Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (“Burning Bush”/”Europa Europa”) directs with compassion this somber refugee story. She writes the script with co-writers Maciej Pisuk and Gabriela Lazarkiewicz, as they tell their gruesome true tale in an old-school way. It’s starkly shot in black and white, and is well-executed. Its refugee story is tragic, timely and emotionally moving.

The unnerving drama describes the plight of a group of many dark-skinned refugees from various Third World countries, who in 2021 are stuck on the ‘green border,’ the dividing line between crossing the border of Belarus (an ally of Putin’s Russia) and Poland (a member of the European Union). The asylum seekers face state-sponsored violence, as they try to cross on foot in the forest between Belarus and Poland but are not allowed to by the Polish military.

The Polish border guards, for the most part, think of the migrants and refugees as if they were weapons sent to Poland by Putin to bring down their country.

On the positive side there are Polish activists and volunteers trying to help the refugees, as they oppose the right-wing leaders responsible for this mess.

The migrants are from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who were cruelly encouraged by the Belarus president Lukashenko to use Belarus as a gateway to Poland and the EU. But the refugees have no idea this was a cruel trick, designed by Belarus to make their EU-member neighbors look like the bad guys when they refuse to extend asylum to the refugees and send them back to Belarus.

The refugees are used as pawns in this wicked political game, where both Poland and Belarus treat the refugees with utter contempt.

It’s an unpleasant film to watch because it’s pitiful to see how the refugees are so inhumanely treated and the world  won’t help.

It played at the Venice Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 12/25/2023  GRADE: B+