Cinema Signal:

Greater Middle East Region Map
Including Afganistan, Pakistan, Libya, and Turkey

. "In This World"

This is a daring piece of film and, no matter how you classify it or what you take to be its purpose, the bottom line is that the courage to undertake it must be appreciated and respected. That courage enters in terms of the physical difficulties but, even more so, in the personal danger that was involved to those on both sides of the camera.

Armed with digital video camera and limited crew, director Michael Winterbottom ("Welcome to Sarayevo") undertakes a story of two young men, 16-year old orphan Jamal (Jamal Udin Torabi) and older cousin Enayat (Enyatullah), whose family in Peshawar has decided to send him to the improved prospects of London by traveling incognito over dangerously undeveloped land routes.

At all points on the journey, from remote village to remoter village, arrangements are made for the temporary housing of the two young lads, and continuation with people they've never seen and whose trustworthiness may be doubted. It's a commitment in which one pays their way with American dollars and Rupees, trusting thereafter to the fates and the goodwill of questionable strangers.

They travel by pick up truck, jeep, cargo van, on foot, in the undercarriage of a semi, a freight train, and in a shipping container; through dust, snow and wind; across Pakistan, Turkey, Italy, France and, finally, England. The threat of not making it is everpresent as they tread on, passing goal after goal and as we witness every detail of the effort. Close-up map graphics keep us informed of their progress and a narration track hints at the journey's underlying political undercurrent.

If the intent of the adventure is to bring the plight of refugees to world attention it fails by not convincing us that the compulsion is worth the odds nor that the motives are justified. In fact, the final statement, which explains the title, is more a wake-up call for peoples who flee their country for less than potentially mortal reasons to be advised to consider otherwise.

Forgiving Winterbottom his continuity gaps, his assumptions about his audience's knowledge of cultural practices and the technical limitations imposed by the circumstances, one is driven along with his central subject matter, recording subtleties in mood, quickened heartbeats in the presence of real danger (with real bullets, in one case), breakdown of morale, and the sheer audacity of the quest.

One must applaud the location staff whose ability to negotiate for the cooperation of such disparate and numerous characters and support in such lawless places borders on the fearless. If Winterbottom can pull something like this off, why isn't he working for the U.N.? He overcomes nightmarish logistical problems while capturing what beauty and desolation exists in the remotest outposts. You become absorbed in the drama of surviving the trip no matter what set it in motion or what may lie at its final destination to have justified it.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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En route with Jamal and Enayat

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