In This World

on September 19, 2003 by Chris Wiegand
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Few films in competition at this year's Berlinale captured the spirit of Dieter Kosslick's "Towards Tolerance" motto better than Michael Winterbottom's "In This World." One of a handful of festival films to explore the plight of refugees (others included Damjan Kozole's memorable "Spare Parts"), this well-paced, verite-style picture startled audiences and critics alike by receiving the Golden Bear for Best Film.

Compassionate and compelling in equal measure, "In This World" charts the progress of two young Afghans residing in Pakistan who set out for London hoping to find sanctuary. The youths doggedly travel through Iran to Turkey and then head to Italy, crammed into the dark container of a freighter alongside other desperate refugees. The journey proves hellish and its outcome raises the stakes for one of those on board.

Co-produced by the BBC and previously known as "The Silk Road"--a reference to one path that the central characters follow on their route--this is a vital film, not simply in terms of content but also in its style. Continuing his exploration of the dramatic possibilities of digital filmmaking (used to great, intimate effect in the Robby Muller-lensed "24 Hour Party People"), Winterbottom made "In This World" with a small crew, occasionally working on the sly in the story's actual locations.

It's the kind of project that DV was made for, and the director pulls it off with great aplomb. Throughout, "In This World" feels both authoritative and authentic. Relevant stats, maps and background information accompany the narrative and it comes as no surprise to learn that screenwriter Tony Grisoni garnered the accounts of real-life refugees when preparing his astute script.

While the film will inevitably receive comparisons with Winterbottom's "Welcome to Sarajevo," it also pursues themes that have repeatedly inhabited the director's other works, from "Jude" to "The Claim": isolation, migration and the search for a place to call home. Starring Jamal Udin Torabi, Enayatullah, Imran Paracha and Hiddayatullah. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Written by Tony Grisoni. Produced by Andrew Eaton and Anita Overland. A Sundance release. Drama. Pashtu- and Farsi-language; subtitled. Rated R for brief strong language. Running time: 90 min

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