DVD Review - Mediterranea

This immigrant story premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival where it was nominated for two awards. It was also nominated for three Spirit Awards, including Best First Screenplay, Best Male Lead and Best First Feature. It won the Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director at the Gotham Awards. It also won two National-Board-of-Review Awards, including Top Five Foreign Language Films and Best Directorial Debut. Those kudos went to writer-director Jonas Carpignano. His movie follows an African male who flees Burkina Faso and tries to make it across the Mediterranean Sea.

Koudous Seihon stars as Ayiva, a man who might be in his 30's. He has a daughter but there is no mention of a wife. The film starts with Ayiva already on the road. It's later learned that his daughter is living with his sister back in his home land. It's not exactly made clear why Ayiva hit the road. If the movie is set in the relative present-day, the reasons could be political or economical. The movie seems to lean more toward the latter, as Ayiva is more concerned with earning money and sending it back to his sister and daughter.

The overall message of the movie is how difficult it is for immigrants, especially immigrants of color like Africans or any of brown and black skin. It's difficult, or it can be difficult to make the trek at all. It's difficult to make a living once he's arrived at whatever new country and it's difficult to fit in and integrate into the fabric of the new society.

Alassane Sy co-stars as Abas, a fellow immigrant who travels with Ayiva from Africa. Abas' presence is more of a counter-point to Ayiva and how each handles the difficult situation. Abas sees the difficulty and shuts down. He gets depressed and doesn't want to engage until things come to a violent head.

Ayiva is a little opposite. He sees the difficult situation and doesn't shut down. He keeps going. Even tired and beaten, he keeps going. He's worked to the bone, pushed to his limits and literally left out in the cold, but the movie is as much about Ayiva's determination and almost unbreakable spirit as much as it is about anything else. Yet, his spirit isn't unbreakable and this film is about learning that.

Carpignano infuses the usual xenophobia and outright racism that would come into play with any immigrant story that was as depressing and austere as this film. As the film's latter half takes place in Italy, the austerity comes from the Italians, not all but a few.

There is a moment when a riot breaks out and the chant reiterated is "Stop shooting blacks!" Who knows the statistics and politics in Italy, but it's a moment that echoes what happened in Baltimore in April 2015, following the death of Freddie Gray. Now, this film doesn't provide us with a Freddie Gray-like character to make that connection. We simply have to take the riot on face value, but, without that connection, the riot feels a little hollow. Nevertheless, Seihon's performance is very strong.

This movie was nominated for awards at Cannes, but it was overshadowed by the Palme d'Or winner, Dheepan, which was also an immigrant story by Jacques Audiard. It had a bit more emotional power and better filmmaking than this. Audiard has made several films at this point. This is Carpignano's first and it perhaps shows.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains scenes of violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 50 mins.

November 21, 2015 at IFC Center and Sundance Cinemas.
March 29, 2016 on DVD / VOD.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.


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