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Green Border ★★★



Released: 21st June 2024

Directed: Agnieszka Holland

Cast: Jalal Altawil, Maja Ostaszewska, Tomasz Włosok, Behi Djanati Atai

Agnieszka Holland’s enraged and hard-hitting drama is what the viewer will make of and take away from it. Is Green Border enough to move people to make changes, actively helping in the migrant crisis at the Belarus-European Union border, or will viewers simply be moved emotionally? Alternatively, is Green Border merely a grim exercise in misery porn with little use behind its existence? Ultimately, Green Border just about justifies its existence, especially when considering the Polish and Belarusian reactions; it is undoubtedly important to highlight these very serious issues. Unfortunately, however, Green Border never quite works as a cinematic endeavour.

Holland’s film is a torrid, desperate work, less an uplifting call for change and more a despairing plea—and rightfully so. Green Border dramatises the incomprehensible suffering migrants endure or die from every day throughout Europe, specifically in this film’s case on the ‘green border’ between Belarus and Poland. Refugees from the Middle East and Africa are treated like pieces of meat by border guards of both sides, with bodies—either alive or dead—pushed and thrown across barbed wire fences in the harsh forest conditions.

Holland relentlessly follows these events through a series of different chapters, all depicted from different points-of-views, ranging from specific refugees to a local resident/activist to a border guard. These POVs are initially interesting, and Holland doesn’t ever simplify the refugees’ plight nor make the guards out to be sympathetic drones merely following orders. Overall, the structure doesn’t quite work; Green Border hops around too much, causing characters to be fleeting and underwritten. The pacing feels off, especially when the film drags through its onslaught of suffering for 147 minutes.

Such issues aren’t helped by some shoddy acting and weak screenwriting (Holland, Maciej Pisuk and Gabriela Łazarkiewicz-Sieczko are co-writers). These two aspects combining to create incredibly ham-fisted moments, where political messages (however right they are) are shoved into the film with little nuance. Green Border commits to the bleakness of the events impressively—the onslaught of suffering is backed up by the grim black and white cinematography by Tomasz Naumiuk—but perhaps it would have worked better in documentary format, where the events taking place could be depicted without being overly forced.

Whilst Green Border doesn’t quite coalesce into a wholly successful film, the importance of Holland’s film can’t be challenged. Not only has it provoked angry responses from the Polish and Belarusian governments, as well as some sections of their populations, it has also shown to those elsewhere in Europe that these refugees are experiencing such conditions everyday, and with very little help.

Again, the experience of Green Border will circle back to the viewer and how they act on the film. Not every film needs to achieve something, and Holland’s desire to highlight the refugee crisis is admirable, but Green Border just lacks the refined nature or hard-hitting realism of similar films such as For Sama or Flee. The messages are important, but the filmmaking is stuttering.

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