Leave to Remain
Friday 11th October, 6.15pm – Rich Mix, Shoreditch High Street
Sunday 13th October, 9pm – Ritzy Cinema
It’s a well-worn trope that storytellers use lies to tell the truth, whereas politicians use the truth to tell lies. If it’s true, Leave to Remain should be compulsory viewing in Whitehall, as this powerfully even-handed feature film tackles almost every taboo subject in the immigration debate.
Born out of the accounts of teenage asylum seekers in the UK, Leave to Remain follows Omar, Abdul and Zizidi as they confront the British immigration system. Omar has been here for two years, but now faces deportation; Abdul is here reluctantly; Zizidi fled domestic abuse. Together they form a ragtag family helped by local community workers led by Uncle Nigel (an imperious Toby Jones) as they seek the holy grail of leave to remain – the granting of asylum.
But this is no bigoted treatise, nor is it a preachy sermon. Director Bruce Goodison uses his documentary experience to craft the source accounts into a coherent whole that looks at the facts in all their fictional glory and challenges well-aired assumptions about immigration. For every asylum seeker playing the system there are bureaucrats willingly waving them through the blind spots. Institutional racial profiling plays against actions that justify that same profiling.
But this film is no mere argument piece – it’s an engaging story replete with humour, pathos and a stonking lead performance from Noof Ousellam as Omar. A “Jihad time” mock-terrorist video, research sessions in which back-stories are changed to incorporate current war zones, and a nativity scene acted by Muslims in which Jesus refuses to be born and the hand of God encounters a technical malfunction: these moments are hilarious. If the quaint finale in the snow is a bit kitsch it is nevertheless beautiful, as is a misty hike in the hills and the Diwali fireworks near the start – for this, cinematographer Felix Wiedermann deserves credit. And everything is backed up by a delightfully underplayed soundtrack from the Mercury Prize-winning AltJ.
The structure of Leave to Remain is a little lacking, lending the film a meandering quality, but the positives far outweigh the negatives in this compellingly told immigration story – and the power of the story here should not be underestimated. Audiences and immigration officers alike look for one thing – as Omar himself says: “Just tell them a good story.” Quite right. And Leave to Remain is a fine example.
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Watch the trailer for Leave to Remain here: