P.O.V. No.21 - BAWKE

On Bawke

Frédéric Pelle & Orlanda Laforêt

Bawke tells the story of two Kurdish stowaways, a father and a son, approaching their goal after being on the road for a long time. However it's only when they arrive that the real difficulties arise. A simple story with a classical direction, this film brings to us a universal and timeless subject: EXILE.

Bawke tries to evoke a reaction in the viewer. In that respect, the film is very representative of humanist movies (such as those of Ken Loach) which usually grapple with strong subjects, to make the spectator think about the world he lives in.

All of us have at least one news item about stowaways in mind. A news item that usually reduces these individual dramas to statistics. Bawke gives a face to those numbers. To realize this problem, the spectator has to experience an emotion. So the film doesn't hesitate to flirt, cleverly and carefully, with "melodrama".

In Bawke everything is done to get the spectator to identify himself with the protagonists (remarkably interpreted by Sedar Ahmad Saleh and Broa Rasol). And it works! From the first shot, we are in their eyes, in their quest: a new country to reach. At that moment, a truck is parking. To reach it, they have to cross a road without being caught and to cut a barbed wire fence. The use of the camera on the shoulder (a documentary's approach) and the judicious choice of actors with an ordinary appearance, give the film once and for all its realistic quality. Swiftly, we guess that the two characters are illegals, not dangerous persons who flee because they have committed a criminal act, only a man and a boy who want a better life. We feel quickly a real emotion for the two characters. Moreover, the nervous editing of this sequence makes us feel the urgency of the situation.

The absence of dialogues (who are they?) and the absence of geographic information (where are they coming from? where are they going?) enhance the universality of the subject.

It's between a truck's wheels that our two stowaways have planned to cross the border. Close-ups of the wheels, the road rushing by, a nervous music and fast editing show us the dangerous and inhuman circumstances of their situation.

In that scene, we have the first information about our characters (a father with his son speaking an Arabic language).

They finally arrive at their destination. The music stops to mark a new stage. Father and son recover some dignity: they freshen up and change clothes. We hope with them that this marks the beginning of a new life. The next sequence is a discussion between them. It's done in a very classical way. The director uses reverse angle shots, which is the most usual way to film an exchange between two characters. He privileges faces (expressions of the feelings), details (the hand of the father cleaning his son, the Zidane card.). All of that makes us feel the love of the father for his son.

In a few words, we learn that they have to run away constantly: "Why do we always have to flee?". The father answers " I don't know why, I promise this is the last time ".

The common sense of childhood can't comprehend that flight and the father is unable to explain the world to his son. He can only help him to live in better conditions.

The most important thing for them now is to manage to stay in this new country. The father explains to his child that they have to separate (probably because it would be morally more difficult to expel a child from the country). To succeed, the son has to throw away his cards, even Zinedine Zidane, his idol. He refuses and they quarrel.

Thanks to the sobriety of the direction, we can concentrate on the stakes at hand. Emotion increases. We can notice that this sequence begins and ends with a wide shot which underlines the cruelty of the situation. Their complete destitution is reinforced by the presence of containers in the middle ground, full of goods.

It's time now for the director to make us accept the unacceptable: for the father to leave his own child.

In the following scene, Hisham Zaman takes us to the subway. The father plans to leave his son at a police station. He hopes that the local authorities will take care of him. The situation can get out of control at anytime. And that's what happens. The father loses his child.

At that moment, we understand the choice of the director to locate this scene in a subway station: a place that is overcrowded, very noisy, with trains going to and coming from various destinations, a place where it is easy to lose someone.

The father's panic is intense. Once again, Hisham Zaman chooses a direct cinematographic language: brief shots with the father always in the center of the image: from the back, in frontal view… Camera on shoulder, close up. The spectator as father, a lost sense of geographical orientation.

To increase the tension of the scene, the soundtrack becomes more aggressive, oppressive, composed by train noises, brakes, and loudspeakers which spread an unknown language.

Then the father finds his son. And everything becomes more quiet, nearly serene. This sequence is the materialization of the father's dream. Hope.

Father and son are sitting inside the train. The child stands up and answers the silent invitation of a little Norwegian girl to join her, under the mother's kindly eyes.

They both have blond hair, probably a symbol of the new country. The children understand each other, they don't need to say anything. For a while, the little boy becomes a child again, with preoccupations appropriate to his age.

This vision comforts the father. His dream seems to be possible, so near… The youth of his son is a sufficient trump.

This serenity is intensified by the sound again, which creates a muffled atmosphere (the passengers seem to whisper, the sound of the train appears now very soft). This sequence is filmed from the father's point of view, and with him we enter into his dream.

This ideal moment is brutally interrupted by the door opening and the entrance of the subway's controllers. The father goes (slowly and discreetly) out of the train, the best way to protect his son. Controllers join him. The son who has seen nothing, stays in the train.

The father is taken to the control station, where the camera stays on him. Once again, it's what the father has in mind that is privileged by the camera. It's a long, unbroken shot. The inspectors aren't visible, they are depersonalized, not represented as individuals but as uniforms. It's their function that is important: to inform the police.

This very neutral shot is intersected by the roaming of the son in the subway station (the police finally find him asleep on a bench), underlining the father's major preoccupation.

In the last part of the film, the father is now in a refugee center and is interrogated by the police. Once again, we don't see the policeman. A translator is audible, but we don't see him either. Once again, the director gets right to the point: the police don't listen to the intentions of the father. There is no room for human feelings.

This scene which determines the father's future is not dramatized at all. No tears, no shouting, no physical violence. The director chose to film in a neutral way, from a very distant point of view. This ordinary and "administrative" approach makes the scene stronger.

Hisham Zaman decides to make their paths cross one last time before their final separation. The son is also present in the same center. No one discovers their family ties: the father's plan half succeeded. When the son notices his father, he runs to him, he calls him. But the father, already in the car which will drive him out of the country, pretends not recognize him. Here again, the direction is very effective and direct. Hisham Zaman takes time to make his point of view very clear. The driver (a policeman) obviously understands that they are father and son. Time is dilated. We could say that he is the one who decides to prolong this last meeting! And for the first time, we see a close-up of a policeman, as an understanding human being, an accomplice. He doesn't need to understand the words spoken in order to understand the situation. Once again, the translator is off camera.

This moment contributes to building a " nearly optimistic " ending, which shows the departure of the car, and the son alone in the pure snow-covered landscape, at the beginning of a new life. He will find the cap thrown away by his father. Inside is the picture of Zidane, as a last positive message to his kid, a message of hope, of dreams.

To conclude, we can say that Bawke is a very touching and sincere film. The direction is humble and completely justified. The director avoids the spectacular, which makes his film more icy. There are no visual or stylized effects to distract the spectator's attention from the purpose that is embodied by the characters. The only one, the slow-motion shot of the boy in the subway before the father's arrest, appears anachronistic and out of place.

Hisham Zaman is always keeping his film within bounds. He makes the bitter statement of a terrible injustice. He never criticizes an individual's attitude but instead portrays a blind and blameworthy system. All the people who meet our characters are at least respectful of them (subway controllers, policemen). Often, they appear to be kind (the mother of the young Norwegian girl, people giving directions, the policeman at the end).

Bawke is a standard, model short film, in which each image has its function. Its linear structure and storytelling is almost scholastic: the prolog to establish the subject, the exposition of the characters' problem, its resolution, and the epilog. All in all, Hisham Zaman has made a very strong film. These 15 minutes tell more about the world we live in than do a lot of feature films.

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