EIFF 2021 Review: Europa ★★★★

Haider Rashid packs an unrelenting intensity into seventy-two minutes in the thrilling and emotionally harrowing Europa. Capturing the experience of an Iraqi migrant crossing the border into Europe, Rashid’s feature sheds light on the dangers and nerve-shredding sense of displacement faced by those crossing the border.

Rashid and co-writer Sonia Giannetto tell the story of Kamal (Adam Ali) a young Iraqi man migrating into Europe on foot. When crossing the border between Turkey and Bulgaria, a group of vigilantes labelling themselves as ‘Migrant Hunters’ intercept and attack Kamal’s party. The now isolated young man manages to escape but is forced to travel through the unknown wilderness in the hope of finding safety.

Preceded by foreboding, unsettling descriptions of the trouble that awaits many migrants (in the form of attacks by authorities or gung-ho citizens), Europa’s opening scenes capture a group of Iraqis in the process of travelling between borders. Shot with a claustrophobic handheld approach by DoP Jacopo Caramella, paired with a night time setting soundtracked by breathy panic and traffickers demanding money from the most vulnerable of migrants. Moving the camera in and out of focus, we get a sense of the high intensity panic when this group is intercepted by Migrant Hunters. This level of intensity is heightened by the sound of a stray gun shot, panicked yells, and guttural breathing.

Rashid keeps events just as disorientating as the narrative moves on and Kamal makes his journey alone. Hiding until daylight in a forest area, Kamal is pushed to forage for berries and eggs all the while questioning whether the slightest sound could bring him harm. Caramella makes use of the bright natural greens and browns of the forest setting in capturing Kamal’s picturesque yet unsettling surroundings. Masterful sound design from crunching leaves and panting paired with the tight-hugging camera style keeps tension high as Kamal explores his surroundings whilst dealing with the trauma of earlier events.

Europa is truly impressive in the way in which it captures the disorientating feeling of displacement that migrants are likely to feel. A dramatic sequence which sees Kamal flagging a passing car for help, delivers a tension that cuts like a knife. The driver panicked at Kamal’s unsettled state leading to further heightened emotions – adding into the mix language barriers, Kamal’s lack of awareness of his surroundings, and his earlier trauma creating a melting pot of chaotic emotions. Further tension comes from clever aesthetic decisions such as not always showing the faces of those interacting with Kamal (the driver being a rare exception) with the migrant attempting to understand whether they are friend or foe. Adam Ali captures this sense of panic with a complex performance exploring both guttural emotion and a quiet deep-seated panic.

In essence Europa has all the elements of a taut escape/survival thriller yet there is a pointed topical and political resonance to the feature. This is an unsettling, nerve-shredding experience that captures some of the dangers faced by those simply seeking a safer life.

Europa plays as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Details can be found here.