Jacques Audiard’s decent Dheepan may have won the top prize at Cannes, but another drama about the experience of illegal immigrants in Europe deserves its fair share of the limelight. Screened in the festival’s Critics’ Week, Jonas Carpignano’s debut feature Mediterranea follows a Burkina Faso man as he takes a treacherous land and sea journey, then gets a foothold in Calabria, Italy. With an intimate naturalism that at times evokes a tag-along documentary, Carpignano’s matter-of-fact approach, leavened with the humor of engaging side characters, produces the ring of truth without strain.
That might be because the troubles faced by the character, Ayiva, were in many cases also faced by Koudous Seihon, the actor who plays him. These include the catch-22’s of finding work and appropriate identity papers; the minefield of social integration and racism encountered in living among native Italians; and the touching, fragile support network provided by fellow migrants from Burkina Faso. Ayiva’s work ethic (and his likeability) gets him a steady job at a citrus picking-and-packing plant, although not all his comrades follow him to the same success.
Survival has a lot to do with luck, and walking down the wrong street at the wrong time (which, it seems, could potentially be a lot of the time for Ayiva and friends) can change the course of your life. But Carpignano’s quietly stirring debut demonstrates palpable artistic integrity, and shows that suffering is not the whole story.