Director: David Clay Diaz (Austria). Year of Release: 2021
We start with a multi-cultural drum circle. They’re bidding farewell to Marie, who’s off to Lesbos to help out at an NGO camp for refugees. When she arrives, rucksack on back, they’re all happy clappy but not particularly friendly. They mainly stare through binoculars at the sea, waiting for refugees to arrive. None has come for weeks, and when they do, they only stay for a couple of hours. This is not what Marie expected, nor is the couple loudly fucking in the neighbouring tent.
Gerald is responsible for a refugee home, where he is very insistent that everyone adheres to his fairly strict rules. This brings him into conflict with Aba, one of the inmates. Aba is clearly traumatized and feels like he’s in prison. The food is inedible, he’s not allowed to smoke in his own room or play loud music from his phone. Gerald is tempted to call the police on Aba, but the other workers dissuade him. They know what will happen if the police come into the home.
A public swimming pool. Marcel and his teenage mates are grading the passing girls out of 10, then “defending” them from any lads who look at them the wrong way. They’re setting up a group Schutzengel (guardian angels) which will help to accompany women home “in the day time after shopping, in the evening after they’ve been out”. As well as having no concept of women working, the Schutzengel are particularly concerned about protecting Austrian women from migrants.
Petra is a tv editor, and has taken in Muhammed as a house guest. Muhammed is a refugee, apparently a 17-year old from Syria, though we later learn that he’s 22, from Morocco and has a wife and kid. And Muhammed is not his real name. Petra tries to civilise him, taking him to an Egon Schiele exhibition, but where she sees High Art, he sees gratuitous nudity, pornography even. Petra tells him he needs to learn Austrian culture, and even arranges for him to be baptised.
Marie is frustrated at doing nothing, and gets a job on one of the boats which rescues incoming refugees. But this is no better. The authorities do everything they can to hinder their work, and refuse permission for them to leave the harbour. In a skype call, Marie’s sympathetic father asks her to come to Tuscany for her mother’s birthday. “But people are drowning” she cries. One day, Marie sees people in the water, and in her attempt to rescue them needs rescuing herself.
Gerald feels increasingly powerless despite the clear power imbalance between him and his charges. In his liberal attempts to look after the refugees, he increasingly orders them around. Aba leads a lunch time protest against the terrible food. Gerald retreats into his room, having fully lost control. Later the police arrive at the home, saying that they’ve heard that drugs are being dealt. Gerald seizes an opportunity to take his revenge on Aba.
The Guardian Angels are developing a brand. They have visiting cards, matching t-shirts and a logo. But when they offer to accompany young women home, most of the women see them as bigger creeps than any theoretical man who might attack them. Meanwhile Marcel is having problems at home. His mother is seeing a Muslim man, and doesn’t listen to her son’s warnings about how dangerous this is. Marcel gets involved in a bar fight and is head butted by one of the bouncers.
Muhammed asks Petra what exactly she wants with him. She keeps him in a basement and treats him like a trophy. Is he a substitute child for her? Petra invites Muhammed to accompany her to a dance competition, as he has learned some very stylish moves in Morocco. After the competition they continue dancing until a younger woman asks Muhammed if he’ll dance with her. Petra is clearly jealous. She lacks both a child and husband. Maybe it’s not the former that she’s missing.
Is it a plot spoiler to say what doesn’t happen? I was thinking, hoping even, that somewhere along the line some of the stories would intersect – that Muhammed or someone from Gerald’s home would-be confronted by one of the Guardian Angels. That doesn’t happen. We’re made to work harder to eke out the links between the stories of quite different white saviours who believe that they’re trying to help but arguably (definitely in some cases) become part of the problem-
Director David Clay Diaz has written the following in a press statement: “Which opinions, attitudes, ideas and prejudices dominate among Europeans? How do they arise? How were they formed? And how can they be broken? No question: chaos reigns. And in this chaos we want to adhere to some figures, observe them and through their eyes achieve an insight. If we try to understand each other better in our fears and perspectives, we can cooperate better.”
This is not just well-meaning hippie bollocks. There is some method in the madness. Me, We is a remarkably undogmatic film. It treats its main characters at face value, warts and all. Most of all, it shows us that what they believe they are doing diverges widely from the results of their actions. Some, particularly Marie, remain sympathetic. Others less so. And while it’s a shame that we don’t see enough of the refugees themselves, this reinforces who’s eyes we’re seeing things through.
Apparently Me. We is the shortest poem ever written, and was originally written by Muhammed Ali. O No. As a film, it is reluctant to tell us how to respond. Instead it makes a strong case and invites us to make our own judgements. This means spending time with characters who are not evil but are most definitely a little confused. The film is all the stronger for this and is definitely worth a watch.