VOD film review: Europa
Matthew Turner | On 18, Mar 2022
Director: Haider Rashid
Cast: Adam Ali
Filmed in Tuscany, but set on the border between Turkey and Bulgaria (the so-called Balkan route), this powerful immigration drama stars British-Libyan actor Adam Ali (Little America) as Kamal, a young Iraqi refugee attempting to migrate to Europe on foot. When his border-crossing party are attacked by vigilante Bulgarians (who call themselves “migrant hunters”), Kamal flees into the woods and endures a desperate battle for survival.
The film unfolds with minimal dialogue, with the cameras always tightly focused on Kamal’s head, creating an intensely immersive experience. This is accentuated by the sound design – Kamal is constantly breathing heavily, either from fear or exhaustion or both, so the few precious moments where he actually breathes normally come as an enormous relief.
Italian-Iraqi director Haider Rashid shot the film in sequence, using handheld cameras and the occasional touch, such as a fisheye lens, to convey Kamal’s disorientation. The intensity of the experience is compounded by a remarkably physical performance from Ali that’s often painful to watch, especially when he’s pulling himself up a sheer rock face or climbing a tree out of sheer panic.
Rashid orchestrates a number of supremely tense sequences. One highlight occurs when an injured Kamal finally reaches a road and is picked up by a nervous Bulgarian woman. The pair have no language in common other than the word “hospital”, so it initially seems like he’s found a temporary saviour, but the radio mentioning words such as “Iraq” soon panics both parties. That’s a nice touch, as it’s possible to read the scene as a comment on the media demonising immigrants.
In addition to creating a palpable atmosphere of fear and threat, Rashid also pulls off a couple of jump scares that would put seasoned horror directors to shame. There’s also a brilliantly shot fight when Kamal encounters a man with a gun – an encounter as chaotic as it is terrifying.
The film is packed with tiny moments and details that add texture, colour and drawn-from-real-life authenticity to each scene, whether it’s Kamal having to survive by eating birds’ eggs, the way he improvises fixing his broken shoe or the fact that he wears a football shirt with “SALAH 11” written on it throughout, a constant reminder of a normal life that’s beyond his reach.
Where to watch online in the UK:
This review was originally published during the 2021 Edinburgh International Film Festival.