Immigrant Separation in modern-day France

by rodel1 on November 18, 2013 - 11:41pm

On a daily basis, immigrants cross political borders, often times while leaving behind people that they care about for many different reasons. This causes feelings of isolation that strain the strongest of ties. Through the parallel stories of Bilal and Simon, two men struggling to hold their worlds together in the face of forced separation, Welcome (Lioret, 2009) paints an interesting picture of a romantic relationship that struggle to survive across geographic and emotional borders. These borders are the result of the chaotic environment that is Calais, France: immigrants abound in this town, banding together to survive how they can.

                Bilal, the immigrant, is in a situation more complex than it seems. He finds himself not only isolated geographically from his girlfriend, but emotionally as well. The long separation has left Mina feeling confused and alone, unsure of whether Bilal will ever even make it to England. This emotional distance is key to the connections that viewers will discover between Bilal and Simon. As the film progresses, one can see why Simon wants to help Bilal swim the channel and reach England. His own romantic relationship isn’t in much better shape – with divorce on the horizon, Simon’s world is starting to fall apart. He feels that one of the biggest opportunities a person will ever get, the chance to be a loving spouse, has been ruined by him. And in Bilal, Simon senses the drive that he never had. The strain felt by Bilal to rescue his and Mina’s relationship forms the central conflict of the film, and though the story is deeply personal, zeroing in on the intimacy of Simon, Marion, Bilal, and Mina, it brings to mind all the broad mental pressures that come along with immigrant separation. Lioret has created an extremely diverse film, one that moves steadily without feeling forced or mundane. It switches between Bilal’s and Mina’s perspective to simultaneously reinforce their previous bond and their current separation. In watching the film, it’s hard not to note the extremes to which Bilal goes to end his and Mina’s separation. His motivations are partially explained but also partially inferred by the viewer. It is explained that he loves (or believes he loves) Mina deeply, but how many people would walk from Iraq to France and, further, attempt to swim the English Channel for someone they “love”? Bilal struggles so hard to cross these political borders in order to maintain a social relationship that is extremely important to his sense of self – his partnership with his girlfriend.

                The dilemma of immigrant separation is explored through the relationships they form in Welcome, from friends to lovers to enemies. From the psychological plight experienced by the main characters, Lioret presents an interesting perspective on isolation. If current legal and social norms prevent immigrants who aren’t biologically related or already joined in marriage from reuniting, then how will those people cope? Humans have always formed connections and always will, and in certain situations they will do anything to maintain those connections. In tumultuous circumstances such as those faced by the Calais immigrants, having people to love and hold onto is one of the very few things that these people own, so when thought about in that sense it’s completely understandable that Bilal would act so dramatically to “hold onto” his relationship with Mina. He’s already lost everything else, and swimming the channel was the only method he had left to save the last thing that was his. As portrayed in Welcome, this desperation can cause disastrous consequences. Therefore, Lioret’s film takes a uniquely psychological perspective on immigration through Bilal’s reasoning and motivations for why he acts the way he does.

 

Citation:

Lioret, P. (director), & Rossignon, C. (producer). (2009). Welcome [DVD]. France: Nord-Ouest Production.

 

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