Sunday, 1 August 2010

A beautiful little movie with very little dialog, Eden is West (dir Costa-Gavras, 2009) is a modern parable of alienation. One tactic used to increase the unreality of the action is the film's reluctance to place names on physical locations. Elias, the protagonist, for example, arrives from the refugee boat at a tourist resort somewhere on the Mediterranean coast. It may be in Italy, it may be in Greece. In fact, it's not important.

But we learn the importance of clothing in denoting social status, and how important social status is in society in order to protect the individual from harm. Elias, a handsome young man who has learnt a smattering of French, frequently secures succour from people - especially women - he meets on the way, including a German tourist named Christina, an Italian woman farmer and a wealthy Paris woman.

But it's not just the women who have kindness to give Elias. There is a band of gypsies who rescues Elias from the cops and a Paris waiter who allows him to finish off the remains of a meal left on a restaurant table by hurried diners.

Elias gets to see how immigrants are exploited, too, when he's press-ganged to work in an electronics recycling factory somewhere in the Alps. The owners dock the pay of employees for everything, including the paltry meals they're served on paper trays. This episode ends in a fight and Elias, ever resilient, escapes across the railway tracks that carry monied commuters between the great cities of Europe.

With only one option in his possession - to link up with a magician who was visiting the resort and who gave the refugee his business card and told him to look him up in Paris - Elias weaves a path across France, finally getting a seat on a train after a fellow countryman gives him some money - but who steals his leather jacket.

In Paris, the hardship doesn't end but the temptations are greater. Elias sleeps one night in a tent on a grassy verge among urban outcasts as he gets closer to his goal: the Champs Elysees, where the magician works out of a strip club. But even when he finds the magician, Elias' travails will not finish. As the Eiffel Tower lights up in gold sparkles, the young traveller is drawn to its allure and makes his solitary way - now clad in a nice tailored wollen suit coat - down the tree-lined boulevard in search of respite from the constant shocks meted out to those who seek a new home in distant lands.

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