Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writer: Tony Grisoni
Cinematography: Marcel Zyskind
Producer: Andrew Eaton and Anita Overland
by Jon Cvack
I’m fairly certain that In This World has been in my Netflix queue for at least ten years, holding the record by probably eight years compared to the next one. I believe it was placed into the lineup while I was writing a research paper back in college, possibly even while reading one of David Kellner’s book. I recall the discussion about how as affordable digital cameras began to arrive in the late 90s/early 00s there was a proliferation of independent documentaries. Filmmaker Michael Winterbottom took influence and created a series of “docu-dramas” in which the movies were filmed with the same cheap digital cameras, using the natural environment and resources in order to craft a story that feels and looks very much like a documentary.
The movie embodies the 00s video aesthetic, reflecting a period in which the decent looking video technology began creeping into affordability, but still far from catching up to professional standards. What we get is a film whose look demonstrates its exact age, no different than classic film noir, most popular 1950s black and white film, or the crime movies from the 1970s. In This World makes us feel that we are the middle of the Iraq War, during those first few years after the Iraq War. Winterbottom transports us, in which similar The Lady in the Lake (1947), the entire story feels as though its through the eyes of a cameraman; a documentarian who was assigned the story and got to share his wild journey.
The story involves two Afghani refugees, Jamal (Jamal Ubin Torabi) and Enayat (Enayatullah), as they escape a refugee camp in Pakistan and sneak to London. They scrape together whatever money they have and pay smugglers to sneak across the borders using any means necessary - hiding in vegetable trucks, container ships, and beneath semis, making their way across Iran, Turkey, and France.
While some might be quick to criticize the use of those horrible early 00s digital effects, it was during these moments that the film’s precise year began to show. What I enjoyed about the story was its preservation of history - serving as a fine example of how technology and story can work create a historical document. The film reflects not just where the world was politically, but technically as well, creating the unique experience of *feeling* like that period time (as any great film achieves). To have made this film any other way - while preserving the intimate and assumedly real moments we got to experience - would have been near impossible.
The story was simple, feeling as though it was improvised throughout production, as the crew tried to find ways to incorporate the environment they were exploring. If not, it’s all the more impressive. Of course, as with any mockumentary, it’s that improvisation that creates such a vivid portrait. Yet having watched a lot of Cassavetes, with Mikey and Nicky (1976) just a few weeks prior to this, I think the story fell a bit short of where it could, at times relying too much on dramatic moments, rather than providing us intimate glimpses into these characters - what they cared about, what provided their determination and courage. Add the special effects, and for as much as much I can appreciate them, I think the story would have been better served to in focusing on the smaller moments.
BELOW: Taking some cameras and shooting at an actual refugee camp
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