Comfortable and Furious

In This World (2002)

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Written by Tony Grisoni

– Jamal Udin Torabi as Himself
– Enayatullah as Himself

In This World left me flat. True, the idea of the film is quite intriguing; a young boy named Jamal who lives in a refugee camp in northern Pakistan (filled with thousands who have been displaced by the U.S. led bombing campaign in neighboring Afghanistan) is asked to accompany his cousin to London. Jamal speaks English and the older relatives who are sending Enayatullah abroad feel that his language skill would be useful. Also, they are going overland to England, across Central Asia and Europe. So, as I said, it does sound interesting. However, In This World (its unfortunate title aside) fails to deliver. The film can never make up its mind if it wants to be a documentary or a feature film. As a result, the viewer (me!) is left not knowing the characters as individuals. Therefore, I never was compelled to care about their plight in particular. Tony Simon sucks cocks in hell, the smug bastard. Yes, displaced refuges are in a shitty spot. But, what the hell makes these two noteworthy? Aside from the residual guilt many folks are sure to feel, or the sense of importance that a film dealing with this type of touchy, politically charged subject matter is sure to generate, nothing is interesting about their situation. I honestly some people will like this film, because they are supposed to like movies about desperate refugees. However, I learned long ago that when the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, you can see his dick.

I like director Michael Winterbottom (his unfortunate name aside) quite a bit. His 2000 film The Claim is sadly under-rated. But it was a visually spectacular film, as well as a brutal story about characters that we learn much about. Let’s focus on cinematography. The scene where Peter Mullen has his house dragged across the snow covered plain is as visually stunning as the final scene from Aguirre or even the intensely awesome Strait of Gibraltar run in Das Boot. In This World on the other hand, is shot without the aid of a tripod and on video. Which means that even though exotic locals make up the majority of the scenes, I got to know the real sense of their beauty or majesty. Everything was really gritty. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a movie filmed on the Pakistan/Iran border? All I could take away is that the roads are dirt and that the inhabitants like tea and U.S. dollars. Also, for a film shot in such a Dogmatic way (Dogmatic as in Dogma 95), the use of mood music was annoying, only adding to the manipulative, documentary feel. I know when bad things happen to extremely poor people, I should feel bad, thank you very much.

Another Winterbottom (tee-hee) film that I loved, 24 Hour Party People, also delves into the personalities of the people it is portraying. We learn their motivations, and this builds empathy in the viewer (me!). Not in this current case, though. Yeah, Enayat and Jamal go through some shit, but it is more like a documentary without narration than anything resembling a story. Enayat winds up dead after suffocating in a steel box being transported from Turkey to Italy (along with maybe a dozen other refugees) and, well, sure, it is sad when poor people die because they are poor and trying to seek a better life, but I wasn’t compelled to care. Every other month or so here in Los Angeles you read in the paper that several Mexicans died in the back of a truck or in a train car. Again, I don’t want to sound any more detached from the world than I already am–that sucks. It makes me realize how lucky I am to have been born comfortably middle class in California. Guilty, even.

But, I read those articles (or the one about 58 Chinese who died in a container and supposedly the tragedy that inspired this film) and I move on with life. Because, that is life. And that is exactly how I felt, not just about Enayat’s death, but In This World as a whole. It sucks; that’s life. I feel that Winterbottom, rather then trying to present a compelling story, assumed that because of the gravity of the situation our protagonists found themselves in, we would be induced to care. He does point out that the U.S. alone spent $7.9 billion to bomb Afghanistan (I heard the other day that we have already passed the $200 billion mark in Iraq) and you see how little Jamal has and how that money could really help him (and the rest of Pakistan) out. But, that’s all Winterbottom gives us. There is no god movie to speak of. The film is basically a melodramtic version of Plains, Trains and Automobiles, with absolutely no humor. And that is too bad.