Modern-day refugees may be clad in the commercial trappings of our world: Frozen backpacks, Adidas sweaters, Nike hats and shoes – but, make no mistake, they are still refugees fleeing an unsafe environment in search of safe shelter. Director Egil Håskjold Larsen bears witness to a group of Syrian refugees making a pilgrimage from Syria through Germany, and finally ending up in Sweden in this heart-wrenching, but no less brilliant 69 Minutes of 86 Days.
The film is a bit of an enigma and requires careful observation. There is no narration. Larsen simply takes his camera 1 metre above the ground and follows a group of refugees as they journey at least 3,177 kilometres. If there is a “main character,” it is Lean, a 3-year-old toting a Frozen backpack. It is through her that the director imparts his message: a child is a child, regardless of where that child may be, and that child is deserving and worthy of having a roof over her head and a stable environment in which to grow.
In response to the question of how engaging watching Syrians travel is, the mileage may vary from one person to the next. It all depends on how much you engage with the small, dramatic human moments Lean experiences on her way. For example, at one point, a man who requires medical attention is being attended to by medical staff/volunteers, and Lean says, in childlike wonder, “He’s getting a needle.” The point of this film, to me, is that a 3-year-old girl has no ability to comprehend the chaos that is now her life. To her, the passing world is one of wonder and excitement and, as odd as it may be to say for such a situation, happiness.
The adults in her life certainly have a part to play in that: it is touching and amazing when there are toys for the children of the group to play with, and the camera follows a teddy bear in an adult’s grasp for a while. It’s obvious that these toys and possessions hold sentimental value.
Lean may be smiling and bubbly, but there are cracks already forming in her psychological make up. Towards the end of the film, she discusses with a young man how she witnessed a cat die. As with any young child, it is difficult to discern reality from fiction, but the fact that she is talking about death in her young age means she has already grown older than most 3 year olds.
69 Minutes of 86 Days shows how we owe it to humans like Lean to bear witness and to do what we can to help in such an atrocious situation.
Sat, Apr 29, 7:00 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
Sun, Apr 30, 12:30 PM Scotiabank Theatre 4
Sun, May 7, 3:30 PM Aga Khan Museum