Political Film Society - Newsletter #180 - October, 2003

October 1, 2003


In This WorldIn This World
appears to be a documentary of a true story, but in the style of the Blair Witch Project (1999). The plot is about sixteen-year-old orphan Jamal Udin Torabi and his cousin, twentysomething Enayatullah, two Afghan refugees in the Shamshatoo refugee camp of one million Afghan refugees outside Peshawar, Pakistan, who start out in February 2002 to go to London. They are two of some one million refugees around the world each year who pay a sum of money to organizers of a people smuggling operation, that is, an underground railroad for undocumented illegals to go from a very poor country to a First World country. The filming starts with a bus and truck trip from Peshawar to Quetta and on to Iran, though they are sent back by police to Pakistan and then return. Going through Kurdish Iran, they trek on foot through the snow undetected past Iraq to Turkey, and then fit into a container on board a cargo ship from Istanbul to Trieste. Enayatullah and a few others do not survive the container trip for lack of fresh air; they are no longer "in this world." After arriving in Trieste, Jamal pays for a train ticket to France after stealing from a woman's purse. Then he lies on a wood plank on the bottom of truck that crosses the chunnel into England and on to London, a trip six months in all. Titles at the end say that Jamal's application for refugee status is denied, but he is given extraordinary permission to remain temporarily; he must leave England on the day before his eighteenth birthday. Director Michael Winterbottom makes a quiet plea for more acceptance of refugees who flee from hopeless conditions, but his more explicit prayer is that more money should be spent to help the refugees that Jamal left behind, given the $7.9 billion cost of the bombing in the Afghan War that created so many of the Peshawar refugees. MH

Casa de los BabysSome women with means in the United States want but cannot biologically have children. Many women in Latin America have children but cannot afford to care for them. The solution would appear to be for the Americans to adopt the babies. In Casa de los Babys, directed by Political Film Society awardwinner John Sayles, the reality of the solution is laid bare. When the film begins, we view the babies at Posada Santa María, known as "La Casa de los Babys." Soon, we view the women who have arrived in town to adopt, the women who have given up their babies for adoption, the men who are unemployed and cannot support wives and children, the children who live on the street because they were not adopted or are unwanted, and the corrupt bureaucracy that stands in the way of efficient, quick adoption so that American women will spend as much money as possible in the hotels while patiently--and impatiently in at least one case--awaiting to have a baby to bring home. Nan (played by Marcia Gay Harden), the impatient one, is understandably fed up after two months; ultimately she tries to bully and bribe a lawyer to finish the paperwork and succeeds despite her obvious appearance to all as an unfit mother. The main problem from the host country's point of view appears to be that none of the adoptive mothers speak Spanish, so the children will lose an important part of their identity; but prospective mothers are not told that secret. (The actual filming is in México, though the location is supposed to be an unidentified South American country.) Since there is a residency requirement for adoption, the women are stuck in a hotel operated by profiteering Señora Muñoz (played by Rita Moreno), who has disdain for the ill-groomed women while her son sees them as imperialistic parasites. Casa de los Babys, thus, is an exposé of a racket and a tragedy, what happens when rich Americans are juxtaposed with poor people in Third World conditions who relate at the material rather than the spiritual level. The Political Film Society, accordingly, has nominated Casa de los Babys as best film exposé of 2003. MH