Germinal Roaux, Iran/Czech Republic
Life is at a crossroads for Fortuna (Kidist Siyum Beza), a fourteen-year-old Ethiopian refugee. She has suffered through much, including the loss of her parents during a traumatic crossing of the Mediterranean. She is sustained by a strong Catholic faith, which she relies upon during her stay with the Catholic friars in basic accommodation on the rugged Swiss Simplon Pass. As Fortuna waits for a more permanent residency status, she must also learn to navigate alone in a new world with different laws, language, and culture.
Fortuna’s life is in limbo, perhaps even more so than the usual asylum seeker as she is young and trying to determine the correct path without the guidance of relatives. The abbot (Bruno Ganz), friars, and local social worker (Patrick d’Assumçao) attempt to help, but they are men ruled by their own principles and desires; the abbot has his religious beliefs, the friars their wish for solitude, and the social worker by the laws of the government. Frustratingly, the film poses Fortuna’s future as a dialectic between the importance of the faith versus that of law and reality, which is frustrating in many ways, particularly because Fortuna herself is not involved in the conversation. This is perhaps realistic, but watching two old men discuss the life of a teenager without her input seems callous and minimizing.
With black and white imagery made only starker by the vast frozen landscapes of the Swiss Alps and the simplicity of the monastery, Fortuna certainly makes a visual impact. The strength of its visuals certainly makes more of a positive impression than the slow-paced story which is more about the role of faith in the modern world than about the unaccompanied minor for which the film is named. In the end, there really shouldn’t even be a discussion as to the role of religion in deciding the future of a vulnerable, unaccompanied minor, and yet writer/director Germinal Roaux frames it in the discussion as something equal in importance to her health and future. Yet, with the reality being that many governments are allowing religious organizations to provide accommodation and services to refugees, perhaps it shouldn’t be shocking to find the separation between church and state becoming increasingly blurred. Winner of the Crystal Bear Award and Grand Prize for best film in the section Generation 14plus.