Swimming with sharks on dry land


on May 11, 2010 by Ed Scheid

In the ironically titled Welcome, a young Kurdish refugee faces hostility in France, where laws are stacked against illegal immigrants. He decides on a hazardous plan to reach England by swimming the English Channel. In another impressive performance, Vincent Lindon (La Moustache) portrays a former swimming champion. The engrossing story and high quality of this film have the potential to draw good arthouse audiences.

Bilal (Firat Ayverdi) is a 17 year old Kurd who has reached Calais from Iraq. Calais is the French side of the English Channel. Paying money to extortionist handlers has been his only means to immigrate. The last part of his journey has gone awry and he remains in France with little resources. He is determined to swim the Channel to be reunited with his girlfriend, Mina (Derya Ayverdi), who has legally immigrated to Britain with her family. While training at the local public pool, the swimming instructor Simon (Lindon) learns of Bilal's situation and agrees to help.

Lindon, one of France's top actors, said that for his approach to acting, it is important for him to know that the appearance of his character is believable. Since Simon was a professional swimmer who gained weight when he gave up competition, Lindon gained weight for the character. Lindon's expressive face gives Simon weariness that communicates a life full of disappointments. His wife, Marion (Audrey Dana), is leaving him. She is a teacher who works in a soup kitchen that feeds refugees.

Simon is also aware of the danger facing Bilal, who is still too inexperienced a swimmer for the Channel. But he sees in Bilal a drive and determination that has long left his life. He takes in and trains Bilal even though he puts himself at risk by doing so. French law punishes helping illegal immigrants with a fine and up to 5 years in jail. There is a continual police presence to establish the danger of Simon's actions.

Ayverdi is a non-professional who was discovered in France and selected for the role of Bilal after a casting search in various countries. He and Lindon are a strong team in the contrasting lead roles. Welcome movingly humanizes universal problems facing illegal immigrants by focusing on conflicted characters that become caught up in outside forces.

For authenticity in preparing the screenplay, director Philippe Lioret and one of his co-writers were in Calais for several days to spend time with the refugees and the volunteers who aid them. This experience as well as shooting in Calais give Welcome a realistic atmosphere with vivid details. Lindon also spent time in a soup kitchen there.

Bilal and Mina keep in contact through furtive cell phone calls. The situation becomes desperate when Mina's father arranges a marriage for her. Lioret builds tension for both Bilal and Simon. Overhead shots of the vast English Channel effectively emphasize the immensity of the challenge facing Bilal.

Distributor: Film Movement
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Firat Ayverdi, Audrey Dana, Derya Ayverdi
Director: Philippe Lioret
Screenwriters: Philippe Lioret, Emmanuel Courcol, and Olivier Adam
Producers: Christophe Rossignon
Genre: Drama; French-language, subtitled
Running time: 105 min.
Release date: May 7 NY

Tags: Vincent Lindon, Firat Ayverdi, Audrey Dana, Derya Ayverdi, Philippe Lioret, Emmanuel Courcol, Olivier Adam, Christophe Rossignon

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