Philip Scheffner’s absorbing and structurally complex film – which screened in the Forum section of the Berlin Film Festival – provides a striking platform for Algerian born Rhim Ibrir as the film dwell on how a woman living in France and has her right-to-remain taken away suddenly becomes invisible and inaudible.
She had featured in the director’s 2016 documentary Havarie and in this hybrid-style film (it is a drama, but uses documentary style and references) her real-life background is further expanded and built into a fiction storyline. Her real-life serious illness, memories of Algeria, medical treatment and issues around her residency permit all form part of Europe, with Ibrir playing 32 year-old Zohara Hamadi, living in a suburb of the French town of Chatellerault.
The bus stop “Europe” is located on an arterial road in Chatellerault. This is where Zohra Hamadi, 32, lives, her summer beginning with the end of a long history of illness. For the first time in her life, Zohra can walk upright, virtually pain-free – she can lead a completely normal life from now on, says the doctor to whom she owes her physical freedom.
Zohra’s flat is in one of the nearby blocks, family and friends all live close by, she has found work at an NGO that deals in second-hand clothes. Zohra just needs to renew her residence permit, then she too will leave to spend at least a few weeks with her husband Hocine in the Algerian mountains. But the extension doesn’t come and with the end of her treatment in sight Zohra loses her right of residence in France.
The film favours long-shots with static cameras, recording the life around Zohra as she now has a smile on her face given that her treatment has given her a new lease of life. But as her residency in France is threatened so in the film she starts to become invisible – featuring out of frame as other characters continue to interact with her. Her world crumbles - Zohra loses her job and her flat. Family and friends leave, she stays back alone in an empty world.
As the film’s production notes say: “This empty world becomes a stage for Zohra, equipped with a handful of keys to the flats of others. She reclaims visibility by inventing her future, and not just one, but several, which she plays out in variations. Her fictions, sometimes subtle, sometimes pretentiously bourgeois, are not quite grounded in facts and draw us into a charade of parallel unfolding realities. She lives with Hocine, or she doesn’t, she has a family, perhaps, a new job, a residence permit.” She becomes a ghostly refugee figure.
Rhim Ibrir is impressive in the central role – even when she is not on screen, or existing to the side of the frame, she continues to permeate the film and her personality is so striking that you get a full sense of who she is and feel nothing but sympathy for this woman who endured so much.
Germany-France, 2021, 104mins
Dir/editor Philip Scheffner
Production pong Film, Haut les Mains Productions, Blinker Filmproduktion
International sales Square Eyes
Producers Caroline Kirberg, Merle Kroger
Screenplay Merle Kroger, Philip Scheffner
Cinematography Volker Sattel
With Rhim Ibrir, Thierry Cantin, Didier Cuillierier, Khadra Bekkouche, Nouria Lakhrissi, Sadya Bekkouche, Hassane Ziani, Zoulikha Ibrir