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The Sad Lot of Women, Children and Immigrants
by Jenny Mather

I could only watch a limited number of movies during the FilmFest Hamburg, but almost all of them fell into a particular category, where people were nasty, cruel or downright inhuman to each other. Many of the movies this year highlighted the difficulties of life as a refugee or immigrant. The Visitor, for example, shows the impassive and efficient way in which American bureaucracy deals with the problem of illegal immigrants. Tarak has spent years in the US but, when he is found to have no green card, he is speedily removed from American soil without a chance to please his case or have others plead it for him.

The Belgian director of Wall to Wall showed the dangerous risks which many immigrants take to reach Europe. You wonder how desperate life has to be in order to want to live in an alien country, where you are poorly housed, badly paid and resented by the native population.

The Israeli documentary Yolki Palki discloses that immigrants do not always feel welcome or are welcomed in this country made up of immigrants. Twenty years after arriving there, the Russian Jews, who flew from Moscow to Ben Gurion airport, still feel that they are outsiders. Opon arrival their children were bullied and called names at school and language barriers meant that they had to accept menial work for which they were overqualified. Life has improved for them, but they remain a defiant, close-knit community battling for acceptance.

In Zimbabwe, a South African film, just about everything bad which can happen to an immigrant does so. The hapless girl at the centre of this movie is a victim of the time and place where she was born. Her plight is such that nobody in her homeland or in South Africa, where she looks for work, can help her.

It would be comforting to think that, sixty yeas after independence from Britain, the lives of poor Indian woman has improved. In Four Women they are pushed into arranged marriages by dolts of fathers and brothers and are impassive about the consequences. Their lives are defined by their status of being wives and mothers and they are an embarrassment if they are neither. It’s a worrying thought that the lives of equally poor women in India today may be no better.

The Egyptian film Eye of the Sun shows a wedding being celebrated in Cairo. There’s nothing exceptional about that until you realise that all the people at the wedding are men. The only woman present is a belly dancer who is certainly not the bride. You wonder what sort of society demands that males and females must celebrate separately such an important family event as a wedding. My companion, watching this movie with me, whispered, “Women’s rights are hanging by a thread in almost every country in the world today.”

Children suffered too in many of the movies at this year’s FilmFest. There may well be an International Charter for the Rights of the Child but Kenji’s father in Tokyo Sonata, a Japanese film, has never heard of it. Kenji is verbally and physically abused by his dad. Kenji’s mother takes it all in her stride and, so it would seem, does the doctor who treats the boy for concussion.

The saddest case of cruelty towards a child was shown in Eye of the Sun. Shams, the little girl growing up in Cairo is loved and cherished by her family but she suffered as a result of a truly inhuman act committed by soldiers before she was born. The story may be fiction but the soldier’s atrocities are well documented and are definitely true.