P.O.V. No.21 - BAWKE


Vivienne Dick
"To all those leaving their native countries,
and their roots and language in search for a better life."

(Dedication at the end of Bawke)

The film opens with a shot of a row of containers in the cold blue light of dawn. It is Winter. A boy of about nine and a man well into middle age, are hiding in a ditch. Across the road is a truck depot which is surrounded by a perimeter fence. They are waiting and watching for the right moment to make their move. The young boy runs across the road first followed by the older man. Then we see the man cutting the wire surrounding the truck depot.

We see some parked trucks and some men standing around chatting in what sounds like German. The driver is climbing into the cab. Just behind him the man appears, followed by the boy. The man is carrying a small hold-all type bag, holding it in front as if it contained something very valuable. Next we see them climbing under the belly of the massive truck just as it is about to move away. The scene is about split-second timing. They give the impression they have done this before. The vehicle hurtles down the highway, the grime and dirt blackening their faces while they cling precariously to the underside of the speeding truck.

"Father, I have to pee!" from the young boy who has had too much lemonade to drink. The father, responding as if they were on an outing somewhere and there was no toilet: "I told you not to drink so much," passing the nearly empty soft drink bottle for the boy to pee into. The wind blows the urine back onto the man's face as he tries to protect himself and hold on at the same time.

The truck depot they find themselves in on arrival is similar to the one they left - a limbo-like space marking a no man's land between the 'outside' and Fortress Europe. Rows of containers with the names 'Ecotrans,' P & O and Maersk speak of multinational corporations, global trade and the movement of goods.

It is here that one of the key scenes of the film takes place. The father begins to intimate what is about to happen: "They will let you in easier because you are a child," he says to his son. The horror of having endured such a journey, with all the danger and deprivation together, and then, for it to dawn on the son that there is a chance he might be asked to remain alone in this strange cold place, in addition to losing his father, is unbearable. "Don't leave me! " the boy cries. "Why do we have to flee?" he asks his father. "I don't know why," his father answers. "I promise you this is the last time."

Here are two Kurds, from one of the world's largest ethnic groups (population estimates in the region of 40 million). [1] The Kurdish homelands straddle the mountainous regions of northern and eastern Iraq, south-eastern Turkey, large tracts of western Iran, parts of Armenia, and a slice of northern Syria. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, the Kurds have been constantly striving for nationhood and independence, constantly having to flee brutality and repression perpetrated by malign powers, first by the British RAF (using gas bombs) and later the successor states of Turkey and Iraq. [2]

The father looks weathered. He is at an age where finding casual work in a foreign country without knowing the language could be difficult, and he knows it. He also knows that the country they are in is wealthy with good social services which will provide for his son, and possibly find him foster parents. Living here, his son will have the opportunities for a good education, a chance in life. The bag he had been carrying contains some clean clothes, which they change into. He is cleaning him up to get him ready for refugee application. He takes the boy's other hand, swearing he won't leave him.

Wiping the grime off his hands he notices his son is clutching some football cards. As soon as the father discovers the cards he has been hiding, the boy drops all pretence of ignorance: "I won't go by myself," he says. The father tells him he will have to go to the police station and that he will follow later. It is at this point we realise the boy understands what his father's intentions are. This realisation becomes displaced onto the tussle with the cards. The father again asks for the cards and the boy replies: "You won't get Zidane!"

The first lesson in smuggling is to 'lose' all traces of the country of origin so as to make it harder for the authorities to find out where you have come from. [3] The boy is unwilling to let go of the pictures of the football players. One if the cards is of his hero Zinedine Zidane, a French Algerian who led France to beat Brazil in the World Cup in 1998 and in the European Cup in 2000. The football card, in addition to being for him a reminder of his identity and culture, is also a representation of global media (satellite television and football). Zidane is viewed in France and elsewhere as an example of the successful integration of immigrants and of a new multiculturalism. [4]

These football cards are the only things remaining to him from his culture, from his past. His father has been hinting that he may have to stay alone. Now he wants to take the picture of Zidane from him as well. The card is the object which is at the centre of this story of separation. It represents the boy's hero, his past, his culture and also his hopes for the future. The scene could be read as an oedipal struggle where the father - who all along has been playing the role of the mother - the (hand)bag, the dressing and cleaning and assisting him to go to the toilet - and the 'father hero' is Zidane with whom the boy identifies. The boy has to choose between Zidane and his father (mother). The father threatens to leave him if he does not hand over the card. "Is he the guy who will permit you to stay?" he asks. (Is he the guy who will make the sacrifice for you to allow you to enter into this world?) It is a scene which expresses some very complex and contradictory emotions. The father is punishing the boy for not handing over the cards when he is asked to. He is also being punished for choosing Zidane over himself, Zidane, perceived as being rich and powerful, a Muslim who has integrated into this Western culture - someone his father can never be. The father delivers an ultimatum: he will leave if the boy refuses the give up the cards. A grotesque playing out of emotional blackmail as he pretends to walk away, to be followed a short while later by a distressed and unhappy boy crying out "Please don't leave me! " and made all the more so because we know he is about to leave him for real, sooner or later. He asks for the cards once more. The boy still refuses to hand them over and flings them into the air. The card with the image of Zidane lands at the boy's feet. The boy picks it up as the father takes him by the shoulders saying "Here you'll have an opportunity to become like Zidane," and he takes the card from him. They walk together towards the first wide shot in the film we have seen so far of a city - an urban landscape of modern office blocks and cranes.

In the underground, the father tells the boy to wait while he asks for directions. The father finds a fellow countryman who points him to the nearest police station. There is a train waiting at the platform and the boy steps on board. By doing this he is postponing the inevitable. The father will be forced to look for him. After searching for him amongst the crowd on the platform he spots his son through the train window and follows him into the carriage just as the train moves off. On the train, observed by his father, the boy befriends a little girl. It is reassuring for the father to see his son so easily make a new friend, without speaking the language. The young girl's mother smiles at him. Some ticket inspectors have boarded the train. The father makes a quick decision. He decides to take advantage of the situation to slip out. He sets it up so the inspectors are forced to follow him onto the platform so the boy hopefully will not notice. That way he will be taken away and will not have to send the boy by himself to the police station. If the boy chances to see him being led away it will appear not to have been his fault. He steps onto the platform, pushing his way past the guards who immediately follow him, asking for his ticket. The train moves away. He could not have gone with his son to a police station because both of them would have been deported as a family. He could not have asked his son to walk into the station by himself. He had to abandon him in order to save him from deportation.

Later, the boy is found asleep on a platform bench and is brought to a hostel for refugees. The father is driven to the same place somewhere in the country where he is questioned and told he is to be deported. On his way out he hears the chatter of children. Glancing over he sees his son engrossed in a game with another child. He pauses for a final look at the son he may never see again. Just as he is turning to leave, the boy looks up and sees him. Outside he is already sitting in the car with a policeman driver and translator. The boy rushes up to the window. "Bawke!" "Father!" He has found his father again and now he is leaving him. He bangs on the car window. The policeman asks him if he knows who the boy is. There is an unbearable pause, before he shakes his head. No, he does not know who this boy is. The camera stays on the horrified face of the policeman who along with the translator, clearly understand what is going on. A long pause where the boy realises his father will not budge and with a final accusation of broken promises, his hands slide away from the window. And so complicit, the three men drive away.

The boy runs after the car, calling out for his father. We see the father with tears in his eyes remove his old woolen hat. The boy finds it in the snow, picks it up and hidden in the fold is, of course, the football card. The separation is complete. He has the card.

In the final shot the young boy is standing, small and silhouetted against a wide, borderless, snow covered landscape. This final shot is in stark contrast to all the earlier shots where everything was delimited by fences, containers, highways with speeding traffic, barriers, crowded subway platforms, doorways, and narrow hallways.

He glances back towards the hostel. This is where his future lies. He will be assimilated into this Western culture. He will go to school in this country and maybe even university. The sacrifice is the gift from his father (mother), allowing him entry into this new world. It is his destiny and future. There is a feeling of hope, with the first sign of sunlight coming from the direction taken by his departing father.

This is a beautifully made film, economic and wonderfully photographed. The performances are very moving - although occasionally verging on the melodramatic. The music score works very well, the more contemporary music throughout contrasting with the more (Kurdish?) traditional music at the end.

1 Owen Bowcott in Welcome to Britain: a special investigation into asylum and immigration - a magazine published by The Guardian in June 2001, p. 24.

2 The British occupied what was then Mesopotamia, seeing it as a secure land-route to India. They were also interested in the development of the huge oil reserves there, since the Royal Navy (along with other shipping) were beginning to convert from coal-burning to oil-burning fuel. In the Winter of 1919 and in the Spring of the following year, the RAF suppressed a rebellion in Kurdistan by using gas bombs. This was repeated in 1987-1988 by Saddam Hussein when he launched a series of attacks on Kurdish villages, killing over 6,000 Kurds and displacing 40,000. David E. Omissi, http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/iraq/history/1990airpow.htm

3 http://home.cogeco.ca/~kobserver/2-5-03-norway-to-deport-kurds.html Refugees are told to destroy documentation as soon as they arrive so the authorities won't know where to send them back to.

4 http://www.time.com/time/europe/hero/zidane.html

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