Virtual reality, gritty thriller bring migrants' plight to Cannes

 20 May 2017 - 13:38

Virtual reality, gritty thriller bring migrants' plight to Cannes


Cannes, France: A helicopter whirs overhead and police take aim from the shadows. You must choose in an instant to join the terrified migrants hiding in the desert or the ones running for their lives.

Mexican Oscar-winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has brought a harrowing virtual reality experience set on the US-Mexican border to the Cannes film festival, where the plight of the world's migrants is in the spotlight.

The six-minute immersive experience is called "Carne y arena" (Flesh and Sand). 

As sirens wail, each live participant -- barefoot in sand and wearing VR goggles -- experiences the scene alone, joined only by a small band of virtual people hoping to reach America -- men, women, children.

One screams out in pain and a tragedy looms, but Inarritu mercifully stops short of the worst.

"During the past four years in which this project has been growing in my mind, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing many Mexican and Central American refugees," the maker of "Birdman" and "The Revenant" said.

"Their life stories haunted me, so I invited some of them to collaborate with me in the project."

"Carne y arena" is screening at an airport just outside Cannes but back in the sun-kissed Mediterranean resort town, the refugee issue is also inescapable.

Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo, who stunned Cannes with his Hitchcockian political allegory "White God" in 2014, is in the running for this year's Palme d'Or top prize with "Jupiter's Moon". 

The supernatural thriller tells the story of Syrian refugee Aryan who, after being shot several times by a policeman at the border, can levitate at will.

When a terrorist plot emerges to bomb the Budapest metro, Aryan gets caught up in a police dragnet as authorities assume the culprits must be migrants. 

- 'My problem is your problem' -

Mundruczo admitted the film takes a tough "politically incorrect" look at Hungary's hardline refugee policy, without letting the rest of Europe off the hook.

"My problem is your problem as well if you are European," he said.

"Of course Hungary is an example, and from one perspective, is a bad example. But it can be easily everywhere, so what is our responsibility? What is our answer to (what) is happening over there?"

More than 400,000 migrants passed through Hungary in 2015 before a highly fortified border fence was built and a deal between the European Union and Turkey and other measures dramatically slowed the influx.

Also screening in Cannes is a passion project by veteran British actress Vanessa Redgrave, a long-time activist making her directorial debut at 80.

Her documentary "Sea Sorrow" features shots of migrants living in Italy and the now-dismantled Jungle camp in Calais, northern France, interspersed with readings by Ralph Fiennes and Emma Thompson about the human plight of those fleeing war and misery dating back as far as the 17th century.

Redgrave drew on her decades performing William Shakespeare's plays for the film, which takes its own name from "The Tempest".

And one of the most keenly awaited contenders at the festival that is still to come -- "Happy End" by two-time Palme d'Or winner Michael Haneke -- looks at a middle-class family living in Calais who are oblivious to the suffering around them.

The Cannes film festival runs until May 28.