Wolfgang Fischer, Germany/Austria
Rike (Susanne Wolff) has decided to take her small sail boat and make her way south from Gibraltar along the coast of Africa to the remote island of Ascension, an artificial paradise created by Darwin in the 19th century. Unfortunately, her trip is thrown into disarray when a dramatic storm strikes; when the calm comes once again, she finds her boat floating near a refugee ship in crisis. It is filled beyond capacity and listing helplessly with no radio contact or useable engines. Upon contacting the coast guard, she is told to leave it behind, that help is coming and that her ship is too small to do anything more than provoke chaos. When she comes close, many jump overboard only to drown trying to make their way to her. She manages to save a boy, Kingsley (Gedion Oduor Wekesa), but finds that, despite saving one, it does not assuage her conscience and, when he awakens and demands she help the others, she finds herself in a terrible moral position.
It is perhaps difficult to convey just how exhausting it is to constantly be bombarded with films of the same themes and current affairs topics over and over again. This year, and indeed for the last few years, the migrant crisis has been at the fore of political film choices at German festivals. Styx is just an uninspired moral parable about the crisis, nothing much else to it. Rike’s boat is Europe, which is too small to take on the overwhelming amount of migrants. The coast guard represents the uncaring countries of the world that refuse to help those in need. Rike’s moral conundrum is supposed to reflect that of those of us in the west… hang on, I am over here yawning.
What is the most bothersome of these types of morally righteous films is that they never offer any great insight into what the solutions should be to these problems. How wonderful that writer/director Wolfgang Fischer (and his co-screenwriter Ika Künzel) feel like they need to inform the audience of a crisis they are well aware of already while providing no insights or answers. It feels patronizing, tired, and a bit exploitative, as these filmmakers know that the way to win prizes is to throw in a few shots of a crying refugee. Give me a film that starts really looking at the causes of the migrant crisis, Europe’s continuing role in creating the problem, and ways we can go about fixing things and I will be on board to sing its praises. Just please, stop with the overtired guilt-trip films that neither help us understand or migrants receive the help and care that they deserve.