After a successful launch during the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes, Europa plays the Edinburgh International Film Festival at a time where it has only got more relevant in the interim. The recent shocking take over of Afghanistan has thrown the plight of people escaping their homeland into sharp relief bringing a sense of real-life urgency to this fictional, but obviously based on a great many real lives, story of an Iraqi man trying to get into Europe in hope of a better life.
Crafting a movie about someone on the run out of a premise very much tied to real life is something which has to be dealt with using a very steady hand so its a shame that perhaps the biggest criticism of the film is that it is perhaps too steady. Director Haider Rashid starts proceedings at an absolutely blistering pace with an initial border crossing getting interrupted in an intensely visceral way and with a runtime barely over 70 minutes, you’d be forgiven for thinking the film would maintain that kind of energy for the entire runtime, something which would really grab by the jugular. Perhaps knowing that moving into full “this is an exciting MOVIE” mode is something which wouldn’t necessarily mesh well with the story at the heart of the film, it instead slows down and only comes close to reaching that essence of tension at a few other moments peppered throughout.
The film instead focuses on Adam Ali’s Kamal as he tries to hide from pursuers and live rough in the woods of Bulgaria. As he is by himself for the majority of proceedings, character is expressed in small details involving what he is carrying with him and instead the film relies on your pure sense of human empathy to bring you into his character’s plight. Ali plays the varying emotions and increasing desperation well though it is obviously a performance more focused on what he does physically rather than any real heft in his verbal acting ability.
When he is met with other characters, the tension amps up again nicely, especially in a terrific few minutes when he’s found by a passer by but when you are spending time watching him walk around, the filmmaking does little to make you stand up and take notice, instead downplaying the beats of drama you will it to have and instead become more contemplative but as a result of the lack of other characters for Kamal to bounce off of, interest did start to wane. The ending certainly does pick things back up again with an ending which will probably provoke some good discussions about what it means and does live a more satisfying taste than it otherwise would have.
Europa is a very well intentioned film which seeks to give you a taste of a life you wish no one would have to live but does so in a way which is only intermittently compelling. When the film is on point, it really is something but unfortunately that just doesn’t happen often enough.