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In This World


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#1 Overstreet

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 11:04 AM

Saw this astonishing film by Michael Winterbottom last night.

Give the guy credit. He took his DV equipment right into Pakistan and, with only minimal guidance and apparently no script, he set his "actors" in motion in a story about a child trying to leave his Pakistan home and escape through a network of "human smuggling" to London.

The results... the struggle to gather the necessary traveling gear, the struggle to communicate with those who don't speak his language, the ordeals on the road by truck and on foot, the nerve-wracking moments at military checkpoints, a terrifying border crossing on a snowy mountainside as patrols open fire on illegals, an excruciating trial trapped in a metal crate for days that recalls the terror of Blair Witch... are really amazing.

You could easily convince viewers they are watching a documentary, but then they'd wonder how the cameras got there. The actors are surprisingly principled in ignoring the cameras, but then at time children run to the camera and want to be seen, reminding us of just how real, how immediate this humanitarian crisis really is. There is also a palpable sense of danger; you can almost smell the filmmakers' sweat as they seem to be risking their lives just to make this rather improvisational piece. How many of those guys with guns on the edges of the fram are actors, and how many are really watching this Englishman with a camera and wondering what he's up to?

It was a hard film to watch... feeling heavy and draining even at its approx. 90 minute running time. Part of the reason it is a tiring ordeal can be chalked up to the strain of trying to understand what we are seeing. The quick-and-dirty filming tactics left much of the dialogue muffled, and subtitles provide only sketchy details. I can listen to that kind of substandard soundtrack for only so long in a theatre without getting a bit weary of it. But Winterbottom's sense of urgency, that feeling of "The world needs to see this now!" makes up for it. We DO need to see this now.

So I share J. Robert's enthusiasm... it's a film everyone should see... NOW. The question is, how? I'm not sure how widely it will be distributed. Keep your eyes and ears open for an opportunity and do yourself the favor of attending.

Here's an excerpt from Michael Atkinson's review at Village Voice:

Winterbottom is one of the most politically responsible filmmakers in England, and here he sets out to record the nightmarish but now utterly common voyage of illegal refugees, traveling with two uneducated Pashtun youths from freshly bombed Afghanistan to London. All-digital and slyly crafted, the movie is 90 percent raw experience—a relentless series of uncomfortable truck rides through low Asian wastelands—abetted by a stat-quoting BBC narrator and animated maps, a moving red line indicating the journey's progress as if the two Afghans were Lewis and Clark.

Jamal, 13, is the savvier of the two, already equipped with a sprinkling of English; twentyish Enayat has the honest face of a toddler and is wary enough to doubt every coyote and money changer they meet. Both are first-time actors cold from refugee camps, and their integration into social landscapes is complete, among their countrymen or out of their element in Iran and Turkey. Little was rehearsed. Winterbottom uses the traits of documentary respectfully; his points of view are not consistently verité, but the textures are intimidatingly real. The odyssey rolls out matter-of-factly, as Jamal and Enayat traverse undeveloped hinterlands and negotiate one border after another before getting to Istanbul, and a sealed cargo box aboard a Mediterranean freighter becomes something of a Calvary for all concerned.

That sequence is prototypical Winterbottom: Locked into darkness with a half-dozen other paying emigrants, including a crying infant, for over 40 hours, the refugees begin unraveling and begging for release. The camera's with them, catching only lighter-flash glimpses of their desperation. Then the baby goes quiet, and once it lands in Trieste we only see the truck get unpacked, methodically, from the outside, not knowing what we'll find inside or who'll still be alive.

The scenes in In This World aren't developed dramatically—they're just presented for their experiential torque (as with a night scramble in the Turkish mountains, the digital photography taking on the creepy, halting minimalism of a struggling download). Winterbottom was set on bare-bones realism, and so the scalding lyricism of ferocious terrain and sociopolitical absurdity seen in, say, Kandahar or A Time for Drunken Horses, is never resourced. In the end, Winterbottom returns to the Pakistani-border refugee camps, where scores of destitute kids smile at the camera, their stories untold.



#2 Overstreet

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 12:12 PM

Oh, and by the way, Movieguide says

many sequences of the story are tedious and boring, and need a far more redemptive, Christian worldview.



What do you suppose is the problem when a true story, documented just as it happens day after day, is criticized for not reflecting "a redemptive Christian worldview"?

#3 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 01:22 PM

Sounds almost like a re-make of Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo, but in a new locale. How strange to think that this is his first film since 24 Hour Party People.

#4 Overstreet

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Posted 19 September 2003 - 09:46 AM

The more I have reflected on the film, the more I have both appreciated it and been puzzled by it. Coming out of the emotional experience, and maintaining my amazement at its technical achievement, I keep coming back to the question, But what is Winterbottom saying? Or better, what is he trying to show us? It began bugging me when I tried to write a review yesterday (and failed miserably.) I couldn't put my finger on the theme of the film. Is it about what the West has done to the Afghan people? Is it about materialism, and the emptiness of leaving one's family and friends in hopes of getting a piece of Western wealth? Is it about freedom? Is it about the Kafka-esque nightmare of life in the Middle East?

This morning, reading Ebert's review, I feel more certain that, while this is definitely a must-see, it is indeed unfocused.

#5 amcoffin

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Posted 19 September 2003 - 07:44 PM

Thought I'd pop back in here again after a long absence...

I read the MovieGuide review earlier today, and immediately knew that board members here would appreciate a look. This review is one of the worst I've read on the site. I see that's it's already been spotted, but I just couldn't get over how digressive and incoherent this one was, especially the final paragraph (in addition to the line quoted above):

"Furthermore, from a spiritual perspective, for years, the Middle East was a productive, fertile crescent. Islam has devastated most of that. What makes England so attractive is the direct result of its Christian heritage. Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq can all be recovered if they would shake off the horrors of Islam and accept the free gift of grace in Jesus Christ."

Here's the link to the full review:

http://www.movieguid...01/200311.18.46

I hate to bash another reviewer too vigorously, but this is embarrassing...

I haven't seen “In This World” yet, but I'm certainly interested now.

#6 Overstreet

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Posted 19 September 2003 - 10:26 PM

You're right, Andrew. It's like that reviewer has such a naive, ill-conceived notion of the world... everything falling into Good Countries (the West) and Bad Countries (The East)... that the ONLY thing he can find to say about a Middle Eastern film is just how evil (and thus, I suppose, bomb-able) "those people" are.

#7 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 20 September 2003 - 02:58 AM

I am certainly not one to defend current Middle Eastern culture, but I have to say that arguments based on a region's prosperity are pretty dumb, given that, for years, the Middle East had a much more vibrant culture than Europe did. If I am not mistaken, much of what we now know about the Greeks etc. was lost to western Europe for years but was preserved by Muslim thinkers -- and ultimately found its way back to Europe as a result of the Crusades. (Spoils of war and all that.)

#8 Overstreet

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Posted 25 September 2003 - 10:50 AM

J. Robert's review is right-on.

#9 Persona

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Posted 01 October 2003 - 11:28 AM

What a mesmerizing, amazing film experience. I’ve held off writing about it for a few days because i don’t think i can do it justice, but the thread is sinking too fast and too few of us have been able to get to a theater. EVERYONE HERE, watch for this film, and if it comes to a place near you make sure you get out to it.

QUOTE
many sequences of the story are tedious and boring, and need a far more redemptive, Christian worldview.


Perhaps it’s just a matter of taste. Everyone has a different reason for choosing what they see, but while many use the medium for entertainment purposes alone, some eventually wander into a higher state where they actually seek understanding, treating film like a form of art that has it’s own language structure and codes. Dr. Ted seems to not care to identify with anything a film is trying to say that is outside of his narrative, yet he still hypocritically wants to embrace it from his own perspective and understanding. It doesn’t work that way. Watching them in this context must be a very frustrating and boring experience.

This film is a masterpiece. It contains all of the elements a work that is called a masterpiece should have: honed skills by an obviously experienced director who presents visual texture, gorgeous design of shots, loud color, chiaroscuro, a strong narrative arc and actors that make you believe you’re in the middle of their crises. Add to that the experimental edge Winterbottom brought to the DV production and you’re left stunned, exiting the theater in silence. Which is exactly how Leary and i walked out. About the only thing we could initially mutter was, “What did we just see?”

QUOTE
You could easily convince viewers they are watching a documentary, but then they'd wonder how the cameras got there.


That is a perfect capsule of my experience in this film. I was riveted at the thought that this was so real, it must be a documentary. But then again, it couldn't be, right? I mean, at the border crossings, it seems like the guards would've interrogated the filmmaker instead of just passing him up and pretending he wasn’t there. And when Jamal and Enayatullah were captured and taken back to Pakistan, how did the filmmaker show it so well while concealing his own capture?

I didn't know much about the film going in. I'd heard from all reliable sources (Jeffrey, Doug, JRobert) that THIS was the fall film to see, and that one should see it in all its glory on the big screen, but i was purposefully skimming the reviews to avoid any potential spoilers. When i finally got around to seeing it, i couldn't remember whether it was a documentary or not, and i felt it must not have been until we got to the end of the film and the actors' names were the same as the characters they played. Winterbottom must have been so much into the reality of the characters that he never bothered to give them a scripted name. To him, they were as real as the situation they found themselves in. And with such a great reality in the approach to the filmmaking perhaps it was best to just use these unknown actors’ real names.

QUOTE
The actors are surprisingly principled in ignoring the cameras, but then at time children run to the camera and want to be seen, reminding us of just how real, how immediate this humanitarian crisis really is.


At our screening, there was a 90-second interview of Winterbottom just before the film began, and he alluded to this, mentioning that "they were just as curious about us as we were about them."

And yes, the shots at the end brilliantly portrayed this.

QUOTE
How many of those guys with guns on the edges of the frame are actors, and how many are really watching this Englishman with a camera and wondering what he's up to?


Again, great observation. Having been to a few countries like this, i can tell you that these scenes were all real. Other scenes, too, like the exuberant Muslim worship on the outside streets were so very reminiscent of times when i woke up in Albania to similar early-morning parades. The same overblown PA tweeter and everything.

QUOTE
Sounds almost like a re-make of Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo, but in a new locale. How strange to think that this is his first film since 24 Hour Party People.


I believe this is my first experience with this director. Are all of his films this good? I’ve now got 24 Hour Party People, Butterfly Kiss, The Claim and Wonderland in my Netflix queue, and i’ve moved them close enough to the front to where i will most likely see them this year.

-s.

Edited by stef, 31 August 2006 - 03:21 PM.


#10 M. Leary

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Posted 01 October 2003 - 12:49 PM

I like this film for a number of reasons:

1. Stef and I are always going to praise any film that takes the visual approach <i>In This World</i> does. It simply exposes the environment of the story in such a way that the technology being used enhances it, capturing it with a surrealism that draws us into the emotional breadth of the storyline. DV as a medium is much more legitimized in a film like this in particular, because there is no other way this simple story could have been captured. Any larger crew would have capsized the effort and over-produced it. Some have compared it to the Iranian New Wave and found it visually ineffective, but it doesn't seem fair to make that comparison at all. Even though it comes close to the methodology of some of those filmmakers, there is a different technology and a different political nuance that comprises <i>In This World</i>.

The way the narrative was arranged with the voiceover, intertitles, and the interactive map, was extremely effective. It was appropriately hard to shake the documentarian feel of the whole production. For that reason AND the fact that this is the everyday life of millions of people.

2. This is by far the most Christian film I have seen in a long time. (I just came back from a Tony Campolo lecture, can you tell?) In this film we are forced to participate in the experience of the weak, of the poor, of the despised. We are forced to encounter who they are and what they have to endure as a result of the political decisions of distant superpowers and/or global corporations. I think it is ultimately a Christian endeavor to create works of art that force us to identify the experience of those in the world that are persecuted and neglected. <i>In This World</i> is able to present an image that we can identify, and does so with no interpretive or critical overtone. We are free just to see the story unfold without statistics being thrown at us or politicians being quoted.

This film takes a step beyond the sterile objectivity of <i>La Promesse</i>, and the euro-thriller savviness of <i>Dirty Pretty Things</i> and takes the immigrant theme to a whole new level.

Edited by MLeary, 24 February 2010 - 01:24 PM.


#11 Overstreet

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Posted 01 October 2003 - 02:50 PM

Michael, may I quote your previous message in Film Forum?

This is by far the most Christian film I have seen in a long time. (I just came back from a Tony Campolo lecture, can you tell?) In this film we are forced to participate in the experience of the weak, of the poor, of the despised. We are forced to encounter who they are and what they have to endure as a result of the political decisions of distant superpowers and/or global corporations. I think it is ultimately a Christian endeavor to create works of art that force us to identify the experience of those in the world that are persecuted and neglected, even if they are muslim (which is a hard thing for an American to even say). In This World is able to present an image that we can identify, and does so with no interpretive or critical overtone. We are free just to see the story unfold without statistics being thrown at us or politicians being quoted.



#12 Andrew

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Posted 01 October 2003 - 03:22 PM

Wish I'd saved it, but there was an interview with Michael Winterbottom in the 'New York Times' 2-3 Sundays ago, in which he stated that his purpose in this film was to demonstrate that the West should respond no differently to the plight of economic refugees, compared to political or wartime refugees. Something like that anyway...

#13 Tim Willson

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Posted 01 October 2003 - 04:32 PM

Michael, may I quote your previous message in Film Forum?

This is by far the most Christian film I have seen in a long time. (I just came back from a Tony Campolo lecture, can you tell?) In this film we are forced to participate in the experience of the weak, of the poor, of the despised. We are forced to encounter who they are and what they have to endure as a result of the political decisions of distant superpowers and/or global corporations. I think it is ultimately a Christian endeavor to create works of art that force us to identify the experience of those in the world that are persecuted and neglected, even if they are muslim (which is a hard thing for an American to even say). In This World is able to present an image that we can identify, and does so with no interpretive or critical overtone. We are free just to see the story unfold without statistics being thrown at us or politicians being quoted.



Can I quote this, too -- in many places, whenever? Terrific insight, nicely said. J. Robert's review (link provided by Jeffrey above) was also outstanding, and I'd like to use part of that in a seminar I'm working on.

I'm not sure I've seen a better collection of comments on a film from this board. It has touched quite a significant nerve, and I only hope it arrives in Edmonton soon.

Tim

#14 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 22 February 2004 - 03:48 PM

Finally, this film is due to open in Vancouver, in about two weeks. The publicist sent me a screener, so I watched it this morning before dashing off to work this afternoon -- and as I have not yet dashed off to work, I don't have the time to re-read this thread and comment on any of the comments here.

This has actually been a sort of Plight Of The Afghans Week for me, this weekend, since yesterday I caught Osama (a film for which there is apparently no thread yet) in the theatre, and I was struck by the differences between the two films. Osama is all about the oppression of women (and the blatantly illegal execution of foreigners, etc.) under the Taliban, but at times its social critique seemed so, I dunno, mannered that I began to wonder if nobody ever had any fun in Afghanistan (in one scene, women celebrating a wedding immediately pull their burkas on and begin to mourn the moment the Taliban show up, as if to say the Taliban had outlawed even the most normal sorts of joy and excitement -- which, for all I know, maybe they did, but still). In This World certainly provides the more naturalistic view of Afghan life that I thought the other film lacked, but I could not help notice that vritually all of the characters are men, or boys, and I could not help notice that this film enjoys the privilege of being made after the fall of the Taliban -- and that, even though Michael Winterbottom's film benefits from this privilege, he still can't help criticize the U.S. for invading Afghanistan and knocking the Taliban off its perch. The opening narration refers to the Soviet invasion in 1979 -- and how interesting to hear about that again, so soon after seeing Miracle! -- and to the American invasion in 2001, but did NOTHING happen to create refugees in-between these two dates? What about the "Kabul wars" to which the mother in Osama refers?

Anyway, I haven't got time to dwell on this at any further length, though I will also note that I liked the film's use of music (which reminded me of Winterbottom's earlier film Wonderland, for some reason, even though the two films had very different composers), yet at the same time I was very aware of how manipulative the music was, and I wondered if maybe this, too, was a way in which Winterbottom was not being entirely fair with his audience or his subject matter. Certainly the one or two quotes of his in the production notes, e.g. to the effect that there is no "real" distinction between political refugees and economic migrants, are a tad naive.

#15 M. Leary

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 09:50 AM

<i>In This World</i> certainly provides the more naturalistic view of Afghan life that I thought the other film lacked, but I could not help notice that vritually all of the characters are men, or boys, and I could not help notice that this film enjoys the privilege of being made after the fall of the Taliban -- and that, even though Michael Winterbottom's film benefits from this privilege, he still can't help criticize the U.S. for invading Afghanistan and knocking the Taliban off its perch.


BUT, to his credit he does not let this politicization of the subject matter overwhelm the direction of the film. It would have been very easy to point out exactly why it is that these boys have such a hard life. But he doesn't. He just remarks on the bare fringes of these reasons, and then really focuses on telling their story.

Edited by MLeary, 24 February 2010 - 01:23 PM.