By CAINE GARDNER
Philippe Lioret's Welcome is a powerfully moving film about love and to what lengths one will go to for love. The story is engaging, but what makes this film something special are the superb performances from its primary leads.
Bilal (Firat Ayverdi) has trekked 4,000 km in three months from Iraq to be with the girl of his dreams and now he stands just 32 km from the English shore and her. After a failed attempt to get into England by truck, Bilal concocts the idea of swimming the channel to reunite with his love.
Hitting the local pool, he enlists lifeguard Simon (Vincent Lindon) to train him and we learn that Simon is dealing with his own issues with love, as his imminent divorce looms over him. The two befriend each other and Bilal informs his new mentor of his hopes to cross the channel.
As their relationship grows, the duo finds themselves in major struggles. First, Bilal is an illegal immigrant and it's against the law for Simon to be housing or even helping the young man. As Bilal's story draws Simon in, he risks all that he has to help the young Kurd make his way to England.
The other major issue Simon must deal with is still being in love with his wife and the regret he feels for not making it work. His persistence to help Bilal grows as his relationships continue to crumble. Simon looks at helping the young man reunite with his love as a way of exorcising his own demons.
With Bilal getting closer and closer to setting off on his journey, his love Mina (Derya Ayverdi) confides in him that her father has set up a marriage for her and his window of opportunity is running out.
Simon's housing of Bilal and his friend has rubbed his neighbors the wrong way and they call down the law on him. Knowing the youngster had stayed the night, he reluctantly lets the officers in, who find nothing. He realizes that Bilal has set off across the channel.
With one failed attempt under his belt, Bilal focuses on what he has to do and begins to train at night also. He is taken into custody after the first attempt and while he is being housed, Mina attempts to contact him and tells Simon that she is to marry and Bilal should stay in France.
Being informed of this, Bilal leaves a pile of clothes on the beach and makes his final push for the British coast and in the process shows the sacrifices some are willing to lay down for love.
Lindon and Ayverdi are glaring opposites of each other. Lindon has a face careworn and shows the experience only age can bring to someone, while Ayverdi has a doe-eyed baby face who begs for the audience to love him. The emotions in this movie are stirring. The desperation to which the leads attack their lives is haunting, yet in Bilal's case uplifting.
The emotional rollercoaster is what makes this such a wonderful film. Lindon and Ayverdi give undeniably superb performances and it's hard to find a weak moment is Lindon's heartfelt portrayal throughout the film.
Final Cut: Welcome is a mesmerizing film that is haunting, uplifting and gut-wrenching. Lindon and Ayverdi give great performances and this is one of the rare films that you consider yourself lucky to have seen. A truly moving piece of cinema.