The making of Michael Winterbottom’s “In this World,” about Afghan refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland for a life in the West, is as extraordinary as the movie itself. The production notes detail the tortuous, and often extremely risky nature of Winterbottom’s endeavor, given the region’s virulent anti-Americanism following 9/11 and the ensuing turmoil in Afghanistan.
In casting their movie, Winterbottom found two remarkable boys, Jamal Udin Torabi and Enayatullah Jumaudin, both non-actors, to play the leads. Of course, neither spoke much English, and securing visas for them, let alone the production’s filming permits was another grueling matter entirely.
That Winterbotton was able to pull this venture off at all is remarkable. That “In this World” is one of this year’s strongest movies is sweet redemption. It’s an unusually powerful testament to what one is willing to suffer and endure for a chance at the kind of life that you and I take for granted. The story is simple: an Afghan family engages the services of human traffickers to get two teenage cousins away from their digs in Peshawar, Pakistan to brighter prospects in London. The boys set off, not knowing who to trust nor how to communicate in the myriad of languages they encounter, on foot, in jeeps, buses, freighters, from one halfway house to another, thus, joining the millions of refugees who annually risk their lives in the trek for freedom.
Jamal and Enayatullah (they use their own names in the movie) are a naïve but reslient
pair. We know little about them, but, in following their journey and the rapport they develop, Winterbottom manages, with minimal dramatic artifice, to engage our sympathies. We feel not just for them but for all the desperate souls the movie happens upon, including a young couple with a baby who stow away with the boys, alongside fellow refugees, inside a shipping container. In the darkness, their terror and anxiety for the baby rise through what becomes a harrowing forty-hour sea passage. Most disturbing is the knowledge that the fate of such people is, in the end, lost, their voices never heard, in our vast tide of anonymous suffering and exploitation.
For all its effect, “World” is an amazingly utilitarian work. Winterbottom employs a gritty, restless, documentary style and a juggernaut pace that seems, on principle, to eschew emotionalism and sticks with the raw, physical record of the journey. Indeed, outside of Dario Marianelli’s haunting score, “World” is short on artful lyricism, on obvious sentiment. The actors are compelling in their very unactorliness; they force us to come to them, to see that it’s in their tired, bedraggled faces that the movie’s message is written. “In this World” may be too fidgety to be poetry. It hews too close to life for that, accomplishing, instead, a daring, thought-provoking immediacy.
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Written by: Tony Grisoni
Cast: Jamal Udin Torabi, Enayatullah, Imran Paracha