french films > Eden is West

Eden is West

Riccardo Scamarcio as Elias

Eden is West

Review score: * * * * *

cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Odysseas Papaspiliopoulos,

year: 0

colour: yes

certificate: 12

director: Costa-Gavras

runtime: 110

A HANDSOME young man from somewhere on the far shores of the Mediterranean jumps off a ship full of illegal immigrants. He swims towards the lights on the coastline, hoping to make it to a better life in France. He can hardly believe his eyes when he wakes up on a beach next morning. Naked men and women are frolicking in the sun with beach balls. Welcome to Europe, the film seems to be saying, a veritable paradis sur mer. But is this a land of freedom or an exhausted, decadent civilisation in decline? Eden Is West is directed by Costa-Gavras, who was born in Greece. He went to Paris in 1951 to study. Since then, he has put down deep roots in France, taken citizenship and become hugely respected as a political filmmaker, the director of Z (1969), State of Siege ('73), Missing ('81), and Music Box ('89). Most of these are not at all comedic but in Eden Is West the 76-year-old Costa-Gavras makes light as he makes heavy. It's basically a road movie in praise of the courage of immigrants, a story that has plenty of currency, not just in Europe. It's also a film about how his adopted country and its neighbours have largely lost their compassion. Lastly, it's a satire, drawn roughly along the lines of The Odyssey, in an attempt to get away from the fact that most movies about immigrants are dour, sombre and depressing. It's a good idea but Costa-Gavras never quite brings it off, partly because the tone is too pessimistic. Sticking it to Europe's decadence becomes the loudest note, robbing most of the characters of their humanity. The tension is always between Costa-Gavras's dark view of human nature and his main character's hopes for the future. It's an uneven battle, although the film has enough strong and thoughtful moments to make you wish it was better. The young man Elias (Riccardo Scamarcio) realises he's at a nudist resort. He shucks his undies and scampers to the change room, stealing the lifeguard's clothes, the first of many costumes he will adopt in an effort to blend in. He's at the Eden Club Paradise, a name full of inference. People initially take him for a staff member. He carries bags, meets a German woman who fancies him and some ugly Russians who need him to unblock their toilet. Elias accepts this revolting indignity without a murmur. He can't speak French, the place is surrounded by cops and Costa-Gavras wants to make clear that dignity is the first thing the immigrant has to let go, especially if he's illegal. We're never told where Elias comes from. On the boat, before he's separated from his best friend (Odysseas Papaspiliopoulos), they speak a made-up language so that we can't put them in any box. The police search the resort and the guests join in, with the gusto of Le Pen supporters. By now, Elias has become a "guest", clothed and fed by the lonely German tourist Christina (Juliane Koehler). She protects him from the officious staff but he pays a price. He's basically a sex slave. This is after he's already been sexually assaulted by a predatory gay staff member. Once he leaves the resort, he begins a slow and eventful journey north, during which he has to fend off more sexual advances. After the fourth or fifth one, I wondered why the director couches his humiliations largely in sexual terms. Even those who are nice to him usually want sex. It's as if Europe has become a place of deviants, bullies, randy truckies and skinheads. Granted, it's a fairytale structure, so exaggeration is expected, but why reduce the argument to a question of who wants to get laid?

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