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Winterbottom's Astonishing Journey,
This review is from: In This World [DVD]  (DVD)
Michael Winterbottom's 2002 film In This World is a brilliantly affecting fictional account of the epic journey undertaken by two Afghan refugees, who leave their refugee camp in Peshawar in North-West Pakistan in an attempt to build a new life in London. Shot in semi-documentary style and using a non-professional cast including the two actors (who Winterbottom, or at least his Casting Director, selected out of a potential cast of thousands) in the lead roles of Jamal and his elder cousin Enayat, the film is, for me, an unmitigated (and perhaps somewhat unexpected) triumph. Winterbottom is, of course, one of the UK's most talented and eclectic filmmakers whose career work has produced some ambitious, but not altogether successful, films such as 24 Hour Party People, Code 46, The Claim, Nine Songs and Genova, whilst at the same time proving that when he hits the mark, such as with his outstanding works Wonderland and Jude, he can make truly memorable films. In my view, In This World fits firmly into this latter category.
As is described by Winterbottom and his screenwriter Tony Grisoni in some detail in one of the DVD extras, In This World was an immense challenge to make, as the filmmakers had to chart (i.e. negotiate and haggle) their way through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Italy and France in order to get the film made. It is all the more remarkable therefore, given this logistically complex backdrop, that what has emerged is a coherent, and powerfully humane, account of Jamal and Enayat's (at times) extremely harrowing journey. Winterbottom creates an effective atmosphere of pervading tension and threat to the two protagonists as they are unsure who to trust - in one episode, Jamal is required to surrender his walkman in order for an unscrupulous border guard to allow them passage, whilst in another he is given as a gift a new pair of shoes with which to continue his journey. However, the film is not all doom and gloom by any means and Winterbottom also intersperses Jamal and Enayat's tale with some brilliant moments of poignant humour.
The look and feel of the film is greatly enhanced by the superb cinematography by Winterbottom's regular collaborator Marcel Zyskind, whose shots of the desolate landscapes of Iran, Turkey, etc, are frequently breathtaking. The film's soundtrack, composed by Dario Marianelli, is also outstanding, with the compellingly melodic mix of western and ethnic styles being skilfully deployed at key moments of emotional development throughout the film (reminiscent of the effect of the soundtrack to Wonderland).
One of the lasting memories I have from the film is the way Winterbottom transforms the viewer's take on the plight of refugees such as Jamal and Enayat, so that, for example, when the two travellers are exposed to glossy western images on television (in Turkey, I think) we are almost as shocked as the pair of Afghan refugees. Indeed, in a wider sense, the film's humane take on Jamal and Enayat's struggle should also influence the way in which we view such issues - for example, when we come across refugee beggars in the street.
An extraordinary film that is essential viewing.