By Dan Barnes.
Vika Evdokimenko’s BAFTA nominated short film ‘Aamir’ follows a 13-year-old boy fleeing his home and family in Iraq, only to find himself in one of the largest refugee camps in France.
It’s a brilliant piece of work, delivered with confidence by Evdokimenko (herself a child immigrant). Her maniacal editing style and speedy direction come together to create an intense atmosphere, as we begin to feel the effects of the situation, and the pressure that Aamir is under.
He’s fled one helpless situation, only to find himself in another. On the face of it, this camp’s purpose is to provide for these refugees, offering food and shelter, but it is not without its limits. He befriends Kaitlyn, a volunteer who explains that there is no government help, but simply volunteers praying for donations that just aren’t coming. He never asks for more than he needs, and it really hits home just how dire this whole charade is, when a young, innocent boy’s hope lives and dies with such simple yet imperative things.
The environment feels very real. Large portions of the film were shot on site, and it shows. Nothing about this has been made to look cinematic or even remotely clean. The camp is brutal, and this is the image that Evdokimenko is showing her audience, thanks to a smart use of hand-held camerawork and a very dense colour palette. There is a real sense of verisimilitude here, with the images reminding us more of recent news stories than any contemporary productions. We are treated as a fly-on-the-wall to this horrific camp, put in place to help but simply creating more victims.
There is also a very minimal use of dialogue, here. The film embodies the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. We don’t need to be told what is happening and what it all means, when the performances and the imagery combined are more than revealing enough.
The story is brought to life with two terrific lead performances. Alan Asaad is in nearly every frame as Aamir, and his wonderfully human performance only adds to the film’s authenticity. He comes across as genuinelly tormented; a boy who has seen and suffered through far too much for someone of his age, and has developed a pessimistic view on even the most positive of people.
Jasmine Blackborow gives a subtle yet touching performance as Kaitlyn. Her optimistic outlook encourages Aamir among many others, but we can see that inside she is becoming increasingly frustrated at how difficult it has become to provide the help she promises.
It’s quite clear that Aamir feels no safer here than he did at home. He’s far more alone, and without the support he so desperately needs. In the film’s opening minutes, Aamir was shown as a boy with no hope, and the story does little to convince us that his circumstances will change any time soon. Evdokimenko isn’t interested in telling a story about hope, but simply presenting a harsh reality to the world.
It’s not hard to see why this film has received BAFTA buzz. It’s an extremely affecting piece of filmmaking that is also relevant and timely. In just 16 short minutes, ‘Aamir’ presents the most vivid portrayal possible of real life in this camp. We have thousands of refugees fleeing a life-threatening situation, with no real clue of what they’re running towards, and volunteers who want nothing more than to help, but who lack the support to make any real difference. It’s messy and pessimistic, and that’s exactly what we’re shown. The terrific performances, along with strong editing and direction from Evdokimenko and outstanding sound design from Roland Heap and Simon Haupt, work together to create a film so close to reality that it leaves a sour taste in our mouths, and one can only assume that’s exactly what the director was hoping for.
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