French-Serbian film turns migrant crisis on its head

 01 Jul 2016 - 12:33

French-Serbian film turns migrant crisis on its head

Belgrade: A new French-Serbian film portrays a migrant crisis in which tens of thousands of people are trying to cross Balkan borders illegally -- but this time, they are coming from the west.

"At The Border", which premieres in Serbia on Friday evening, is set in the year 2022 and shows hordes of people from rich countries abandoning their wealth in search of a happier life in Serbia.

The crowdfunded short film was shot last year as hundreds of thousands of migrants crossed the Balkans hoping to start new lives in western Europe, having fled war or poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

In contrast, the movie shows expensive cars driven from the other direction and abandoned in fields, as smartly-dressed people wave euro notes at Serbian police beyond a razor-wire fence.

Actor Arnaud Humbert, who wrote and starred in the film, told AFP that these "people who have everything" realise they lack a sense of well-being -- and "they have to go out and find it".

A French 34-year-old living in Belgrade, Humbert said he began writing the script in February last year, months before the real-life migrant crisis reached its peak.

"People always ask me what I'm doing in Serbia, it's not common," he said.

But "so many foreigners coming to Serbia really appreciate the lifestyle here".

In the film he plays a young Frenchman, also called Arnaud, who is love with both Serbia and a Serbian woman, Jelena, but he is not allowed to cross the closed frontier.

He comes up against gruff border police chief Milos, to whom he describes the Europe beyond as "a mess".

"Do you know what it's really like out there?" the lovestruck protagonist asks the official inside a police station.

Such scenes may have extra pertinence after last week's vote by British people to leave the European Union, sparking turmoil in a traditionally stable and prosperous country.

"I like the idea of Europe but the reality is freaky," said Humbert.

New Serbian image 

Humbert is keen to point out that he knows life is not always rosy in Serbia, an EU candidate country where the average wage is about 400 euros a month. 

"Many people here would like to change something," he said.

Debuting director Laurent Rouy, another Frenchman living in Belgrade, said the film aimed to challenge the country's "international image" which was still linked to the war-torn 1990s.

A longtime Balkans correspondent who has lived in Serbia since 2002, Rouy said the film's positive depiction of the country was a "psychological incentive" for the 100-strong production team.

"There's the story about migrants but also the story about Serbia," he said.

The multilingual film, in English, French and Serbian, premieres at the Cinema City film festival in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad.