The story of a young African migrant who, along with his best friend, travels in search of a new life from Burkina Faso to Tunisia, Libya, and Italy, Mediterranea paints a portrait of refugee toil and suffering that doesn’t lack for topicality.
Ayiva (Koudous Seihon, in a commanding debut screen performance) relocates to Europe for reasons that are never directly elucidated by writer-director Jonas Carpignano. Instead, this tale merely offers intimate physical closeness to its protagonist as he crosses the desert and the sea before setting up residence in a slum’s makeshift tent and starting work as an orange-picker for exploitative bosses.
While his comrade Abas (Alassane Sy) grows increasingly angry over their demoralizing circumstances, Ayiva struggles to remain positive, and his encounters with an adolescent stolen-goods merchant and an employer’s young daughter further his commitment to finding a way to reunite with his own seven-year-old daughter.
Bolstered by Wyatt Garfield’s immediate handheld camerawork, Mediterranea‘s depiction of day-to-day life on the margins — full of brief moments of communal joy but also harrowing clashes with intolerant factions — is rife with authentic details and dynamics. By avoiding engagement with the larger socio-political-economic forces driving such illegal immigration, however, the film proves a piercing character study whose narrow view frustrates complete empathy.
Directed by Jonas Carpignano
Opens November 20, IFC Center