Review: ‘The Wound’

A lesson in compassionate but completely self-defeating filmmaking, "The Wound" is a needlessly protracted examination of the ways in which France may mistreat African asylum-seekers. Years of field research by helmer Nicolas Klotz and scripter Elisabeth Perceval yield a touching and tedious pic. Trimming will make this a viable docudrama.

A lesson in compassionate, pertinent but completely self-defeating filmmaking, “The Wound” is a needlessly protracted examination of the ways in which France may mistreat African asylum-seekers. Three years of conscientious field research by helmer Nicolas Klotz and scripter Elisabeth Perceval yield an occasionally touching, sometimes upsetting and punishingly tedious grab bag of immigrant woes. Euro fests will surely be receptive but only thoughtful trimming will make this the viable docudrama it deserves to be.

While socially conscious pics are under no obligation to entertain viewers, well-meaning filmmakers might have been better served by a little less research and a few more viewings of “La Promesse,” “Journey to the Sun” or “In This World” — wrenching films that make viewers ache for their geography-buffeted protags rather than want to scold them for ever leaving their untenable native lands in the first place.

First half hour shows promise as fresh arrivals at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport are humiliated, roughed up and held for deportation on the next flight back to Africa despite requests for asylum clearly formulated in French. Viewer is left to conclude that Gaul’s historical policy of giving political refugees a fighting chance has been replaced by a government crackdown on would-be immigrants whose skin happens to be dark.

After having had no news from his wife Blandine (Noella Mobassa) for a year, Papi (Adama Doumbia) receives a call announcing that she has landed in Paris. But when he goes to the airport to greet her, the authorities are dismissive and unhelpful.

As Blandine is shoved kicking and screaming onto a shuttle van ferrying deportees to a plane, her leg gets caught in the closing doors. Although the gashes are serious, she is left on the floor in a holding area. An independent-minded employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs happens to notice her, secures medical attention for her and sets the paperwork in motion for her asylum request.

Despite this timely administrative gesture, Blandine is minutes away from being dumped on a subsequent flight when a fax saves her from deportation.

Reunited with Papi in an unsanitary communal squat, Blandine takes to a musty mattress and, cowed by so many white faces, can’t summon the enthusiasm to go outside.

Food is scarce, money is scarcer and water must be lugged from a fountain in a cemetery. Although there’s relatively little dialogue, every so often a non-pro thesp relates a harrowing or depressing experience.

Many immigrants the world over are hampered by language barriers, but these protags have come to France primarily from French-speaking Africa. What’s impeding their progress is the suspended animation of lengthy bureaucratic procedures — and the color of their skin.

Studiously militant portrait of workaday injustice makes its points early and then devotes itself to the indignities of human beings reduced to living Third World lives in a first world country. Rigorous lensing reinforces the aura of authenticity and lethargy. But cumulative effect squanders viewer sympathy, inadvertently showing as much contempt for its aud as it shows compassion for its subject.

The Wound

Directors Fortnight / France-Belgium

Production

An Arte France presentation of an Aurora Films, Arte, Petits et Grands Oiseaux (France)/ Tarantula (Belgium) co-production. (International sales: Shellac, Paris.) Produced by Charlotte Vincent, Joseph Rouschop, Nicolas Klotz, Elizabeth Perceval. Directed by Nicolas Klotz. Screenplay, Elizabeth Perceval.

Crew

Camera (color), Helene Louvart; editor, Rose-Marie Lausson; music, Joy Division; production designer/costumes, Francoise Arnaud; sound (Dolby), Alain Sironval, Julie Brenta, Thomas Gauder; assistant directors, Yassine Laloui;casting, Stephane Batut, Isabelle Ungaro, Elisabeth Perceval. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), May 18, 2004. Running time: 162 MIN.

With

Blandine - Noella Mobassa Papi - Adama Doumbia
With: Matty Djambo, Ousman Diallo, Mamoudou Koundio.
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