Review: Green Boys
by Fabien Lemercier
- Through the meeting of two adolescent boys - a Guinean illegal immigrant and a Normandy teen - Ariane Doublet crafts a rural film which is simple, tender and educational
Having been repeatedly explored on screen, and often from a rather dramatic angle, the subject of illegal immigration inspired Ariane Doublet - a director with deep roots in the rural world (Les Terriens, Les Sucriers de Colleville) - to go against the tide and to take a gentler approach to the topic. Set amongst the fields and the hills which border the English Channel, Green Boys [+see also:
film profile] had its world premiere in Paris, competing in the French section of the 41st Cinéma du Réel festival.
Alhassane is a young and slender 17-year-old man, both quiet and extremely kind, who has travelled alone to leave his homeland, Guinea Conakry, arriving in France following a journey which has lasted nigh-on two years. Louka, meanwhile, is 13 years old. He’s an adolescent from the local area, a tranquil, green haven in the Normandy countryside, just a stone’s throw from the sea. The two teenagers have made a connection (we don’t know how) and they continue to develop their budding friendship with the ease that is typical of their age: by kicking a ball to one another, watching football matches on TV, climbing trees, sharing snacks, fishing for crabs, building a shack (in the traditional Guinean style)… From the end of spring through to summer, they happily pass their time outside and through their daily meet-ups, their walks, their observations of nature and their nonchalant conversations, the two protagonists get to know one another, sharing what they have learned in their young lives; Louka teaches Alhassane French expressions, the names of trees, while Alhassane tells his friend about stroking cows, prayer rituals, the fear of the devil, and gives a very modest account of his struggles to reach Europe.
Over the course of these countryside meet-ups, which are only ever vaguely interrupted by three (rather elderly) adults, who make a fleeting appearance in the film and take a kindly approach towards the duo, the film gradually travels back in time, telling the tale by way of a voice-over (in Alhassane’s mother tongue) and offering a far more detailed account of his voyage from Guinea to France than is previously given - from his secret departure to his first phonecall months later to his mother, who was convinced he was dead; from the Libyan prison to the armed people smugglers he encountered; from his fear of drowning in the Mediterranean to the detention camp in Sardinia ("it can drive you crazy, nothing happens. I was desperate"), before finally reaching France and Le Havre ("I was all alone in the city, I couldn’t speak to anyone. All I could think was: Where am I going to sleep?”) where a local association soon placed him with a family ("there are special rules that you have to respect. We all have our customs… Sometimes, after eating, I would vomit, but I didn’t say anything. I was ashamed. If someone takes you in for free, you eat what they give you"). All of this, without forgetting the question of social justice ("People judge you as if you’ve committed an offense, they think that what you’re saying is a lie, they try to trip you up. They say that you don’t think like a child, that your facial hair has grown, that you’re not a minor") and Alhassane’s dream to become a mechanic in France.
This is a clear documentary, very simple and gentle, which provides the viewer with a breath of fresh air. Green Boys allows the heart of its subject-matter to emerge little by little; it doesn’t look to tell the viewer everything, instead prioritising the quiet spontaneity of its two very lovable main characters. Doublet achieves a delicate closeness to her subject which endows the film with a subtle, heady charm, all the while casting a positive and optimistic light on the integration of migrants.
Green Boys is produced by Squaw.
(Translated from French)
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