Refuge in the West is full of broken promises. So goes the premise of director Petros Sevastikoglou’s Attractive Illusion, showing at the Panorama of Contemporary Greek Cinema festival at Centre Culturel Hellénique in Paris. The title alone sums up the mirage of a European sanctuary for many of its illegal immigrants, as the film’s four protagonists come to Greece from Nigeria in search of a new life: a job for themselves and support for their families back home.
Introducing the film before the screening, Sevastikoglou makes it clear that what we are about to see is a mere rendering of events and not a documentary. Yet, once the titles roll, it’s hard not to wonder where fiction ends and reality begins. Minimalist imagery and a naturalistic acting style leaves little room for melodramatic scenes or coerced emotionalism, while the authenticity of the settings and details of everyday life blur the lines of reality and art even further. The most important piece of information is found in the names behind it, as Sevastikoglou states that this is the story of these very four non-actors, written by them about their experiences and given life via the technical means that he could provide. The script was written and acted by real people, so any questions over schematics or naïve depictions of refugees are rendered void by the process itself. As the filmmaker says, these are experiences specific to his subjects. It does not necessarily ring true for all African immigrants, but it does show a reality that is lived by many.
The way Attractive Illusion is shot and edited makes it easy to place it in any Western capital. There is little interaction with the locals and no known landmarks of Athens are ever put into focus. This makes the film more relatable to any viewer and the story more universal. Even its characters make no specific reference as to where they are, only Europe in general, as promised by the people putting them on that boat.
When asked about his intention behind the film, Sevastikoglou replies that his main goal is to provide a glimpse into the lives of the people passed every day on the street, living next door, without ever knowing anything about them. Avoiding the trap of political correctness by casting the roles of good and evil –with immigrants on one side and locals on the other –he manages to plainly convey what we should all know but often forget, which is the simple truth of our common identity, our shared humanity.
After the screening ends, I’m left wondering how one place can have such antithetical perceptions for people living in another part of the world. At one end, the West is regarded as a place in crisis due to its economical decay. On the other, where the media-driven stream of social upheaval and anxiety has not reached them, it can still be viewed as a New Eden: a promised land that will not deliver, a European haven that cannot protect.
Panorama of Contemporary Greek Cinema is a festival that runs in March bi-annually by the Centre Culturel Hellénique in Paris.