MOVIE OF THE WEEK June 21, 2024: GREEN BORDER

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Harrowing in its brutal depiction of the way that refugees from Africa and the Middle East are treated by authorities on both sides of the vicious barbed-wire fence between Belarus and Poland, Agnieszka Holland’s riveting drama Green Border begs viewers to pay attention to the tragic consequences of dehumanizing the vulnerable people who need help the most. It’s a difficult film to watch — which is exactly why it needs to be seen.

The movie weaves together storylines about several different groups of people involved in this fictional take on a very real humanitarian crisis. There’s a Syrian family fleeing ISIS that’s trying to reach safe haven in Sweden, only to be abandoned at the titular border. They’re joined by a kind English teacher from Afghanistan (Behi Djanati Atai) and also cross paths with other scared, helpless refugees who are unceremoniously dumped back and forth between Poland and Belarus by border patrol guards who treat them like less than garbage. One of those guards, a father-to-be named Jan (Tomasz Wlosok), is clearly conflicted about what he’s being asked to do, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to rationalize it. And then there’s Julia (Maja Ostaszewska), a widowed therapist who finds herself joining a group of activists doing everything they can to help refugees without breaking the law.

In one scene fairly early in the movie, Jan’s superior officer tells the Polish guards that the refugees “aren’t people – they are live bullets,” playing directly into political propaganda that paints persecuted asylum seekers as stealth weapons sent by the likes of Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko to threaten the European Union. The impact of these dehumanization tactics is horrifying, and there are many moments in Green Border that are likely to elicit gasps of horror, shouts of outrage, or both.

Holland captures it all in powerful black-and-white cinematography that’s sometimes stark and sometimes lovely. She helps viewers find empathy for all of her main characters, even Jan, but she doesn’t excuse any of the terrible things that people do to each other. The actors’ performances are raw and authentic, and their characters’ ability to find small moments of lightness and joy even in such dark circumstances allows you to dare to hope for a better way forward — even with the film’s world-weary epilogue and final statistics. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Loren King Director Agnieszka Holland is in top form with this riveting film that is both up-to-the-minute and universal in its story of human suffering, brutality, compassion and the moral choices ordinary people must make. From the first frame, we are pulled into the compelling story of a Syrian family and the Afghan refugee who joins them as they land in Belarus and optimistically attempt to cross the so-called “green border” through a forest into Poland. What ensues is a heart stopping thriller and geopolitical drama that’s both eye-opening and gut wrenching. Shot documentary style in black and white, Green Border, like last year’s Beyond Utopia, dramatizes the Kafkaesque plight of asylum-seeking refugees in a specific place with developed characters that Holland deftly intertwines in a story that’s personal, political, at times unbearable, and ultimately impossible to ignore or forget.

Leslie Combemale Prolific award-winning and Oscar nominated writer Agnieszka Holland is co-writer/director of this verity-inspired narrative about refugees who become like human hot potatoes at the Polish-Belarusian border. Viewers who watched Alex Garland’s recent release Civil War will feel a bit of the same tension and intensity in Green Border, but the difference is events like those depicted in Green Border have been happening since the refugee crisis began in 2014. Much of the film’s running time is downright harrowing, and in scenes where refugees find safety or aid, the kindness stands in stark contrast, when their norm is life-threatening cruelty. It’s an important film with exceptional performances that will, in time, be seen an an important representation of a dark moment in world history.

Jennifer Merin Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s Green Border is a documentary-like geopolitical drama about a group of disparate refugees who are seeking asylum from political unrest and poverty in their various homelands. The ‘Green Border’ referred to in the title is a no go zone on both sides of a barbed wire fence that demarks the border between Belarus and Poland. It is a border that refugees from oppressive countries in Africa and the Middle East are desperate to cross because they expect to find safe passage through Poland to freedom and a better life in the European Union. However, they find that safe passage is elusive, if not impossible. Because neither Belarus nor Poland wants them, they are brutally rejected by violent border guards that are commissioned by the virulently right wing xenophobic governments on both sides of the barbed wire. Read full review.

Nikki Fowler: Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s ‘Green Border will jolt your soul with its honest immigrant depiction based on a real life refugee family and many more refugees who were stuck at the border between Belarus and Poland, as many refugees still are today. Violence, racism and inhumanity are at the forefront of an international human crisis that still perpetuates with over 30K refugees who allegedly have been killed and hunted, and are being thrown back and forth over the controversial border like human ragdolls. With politics at the forefront, both sides point to blame the other. There are a brave few who dare to oppose the Polish government’s anti-immigrant propaganda and the brutal military units that guard the border. Agnieska Holland has met immense criticism to the point of being called a Nazi for her poignant award winning film that pushes for reform and change. It is hard to imagine the rejection and brutally shown to brown and black immigrants while millions of Ukrainians have been able to seek refuge from Putin’s war. Green Border beautifully illustrates the people fighting for their lives and the brave souls putting their own lives at risk even if it saves just one life. This film will haunt you but will also give you faith in the human spirit.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Agnieszka Holland’s Green Border is a powerful and extremely hard to watch chronicle of the desperate African and Middle-Eastern refugees who are stuck being sent back and forth between Poland, which is part of the European Union, and Belarus, whose authoritarian leader Lukashenko keeps sending them back. A controversial film in Poland, where Holland — and cinemas who showed the film — have been attacked and accused of anti-Polish propaganda, the international drama should be eye-opening for American audiences who may not know much about the topic. A well-acted, technically masterful, and harrowing story about people who just want to plead their case for asylum but are dehumanized at every turn instead.

Cate Marquis Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s powerful drama about immigration starts with a family fleeing war-torn in Syria, where life in the refugee camp has become intolerable. But we first meet the family on a plane, flying from Turkey to Belarus, from where they are to cross the border into Poland and then on to Sweden, where a brother is waiting. Spirits are high, all has been arranged and paid for. Rather than trying to cross to Europe by boat, the family are taking a land route which they were led to believe was an easier, safer route. But at the border between Belarus and Poland, they find themselves, along with other immigrants, caught in a brutal situation, a dispute between two adversarial nations where neither side wants them. As they are flung back and forth across the border, director Holland deepens the narrative by introducing other viewpoints: a young Polish border guard and a group of activists trying to help the travelers, in a thorough, often hard-to-watch examination of the human side of this tragic situation.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: Green Border

Director: Agnieszka Holland

Release Date: June 21, 2024

Running Time: 152 minutes

Language: English, Polish, Arabic, French and Russian with English subtitles

Screenwriters: Maciej Pisuk, Gabriela Lazarkiewicz, Agnieszka Holland

Distribution Company: Kino Lorber

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Nikki Fowler, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).