The Strangers’ Case (2024)


The Strangers’ Case

The international breadth and human suffering of the global refugee crisis can be seen in many contemporary historical films such as Agnieszka Holland’s “Green Border” or Matteo Garrone’s Oscar-nominated “Io Capitano.” Yet if we strip away all current event urgency from these tales about people who cross continents under threat of death for a chance at happiness, what remains is nothing new. In “The Strangers’ Case,” Brandt Andersen once an American producer now turned director emphasizes this systemic enormity by dividing up his script into chapters which follow various players along our protagonist’s journey warmongers, traffickers; rescuers; victims themselves displaced by conflict.

Unfortunately, such an expansive scope prevents any one character’s story line from being deeply examined within the larger context provided by worldwide events like these. Brandt describes his subjects using broad strokes that are meant only to support his plot structure, rather than provide genuine insight into them as individuals or even necessarily make us care about their ultimate fate. “The Strangers’ Case” is based on Andersen’s own short film (which made it onto last year’s Oscars list) called “Refugee”; I think he could have gone further with what he had there. Instead, what we end up getting feels more akin to separate but equal shorts mash-ups together so tightly you’d think each segment was designed specifically for another.

They all build towards some kind of life or death climax before abruptly cutting off and moving onto something completely different. There comes a stage when playing god with someone else’s mortality just doesn’t sit well against backdrop real life humanitarian emergency anymore if anything, i’m more invested in these peoples struggles than whether they live through them. Still though? This man knows how put butts seats–and while not nearly rough enough around edges like say Green Border would turn off certain delicate types himself included because frankly sometimes folks need escapeism. Also, i’m not sure who would buy this thing: Being that as it may be produced in Jordan there aren’t many A-list actors involved (Omar Sy plays one part and he’s relatively big over here), but people will go see movies made by Brandt Andersen regardless of what country they’re from.

When another airstrike demolishes their family home and kills many of their relatives, Amira and Rasha flee towards the border in the trunk of a car to avoid detection by Assad officials, but we don’t find out if they make it through a tense checkpoint because the movie cuts to its next story. The second one is “The Soldier,” about Mustafa (Yahya Mahayni, giving the film’s most contained performance), a stoic Syrian Army officer who dutifully follows his superiors’ barbaric orders even as his father’s pacifism haunts him.

After that moral crisis culminates in a do-or-die confrontation between Mustafa and his vicious commander, we jump with no warning to Sy as “The Smuggler.” Stationed in Izmir, Turkey, Sy’s character Marwan is an unfeeling opportunist who squeezes thousands of dollars out of Syrian refugees who’ve made it that far for spots on one of his small, barely seaworthy boats to Greece. “They make it or they don’t it all pays the same,” he shrugs to one of his henchmen. But his cruel indifference to others’ suffering masks his own desire: to emigrate with his cherubic, adoring young son.

That portrait of devoted fatherhood under duress gets somewhat heavy-handedly echoed in the next two stories. “The Poet” follows Fathi (Ziad Bakri), a Syrian writer whisking himself and his wife and kids across the Aegean; “The Captain” centers on Stavros (Constantine Markoulakis), a valiant Greek coast guard risking life and limb to bring boatloads safely ashore while his fretful son looks on. As tragedy moves in on these men from different angles, it becomes clear at least one family is not going to make it Andersen’s script is often clunky with dialogue that’s pregnant with imminent doom. (“Please don’t leave me again, Papa,” a child says; it looks like the kid’s predictions will come true.)

The brawniness and grandeur of the filmmaking is usually enough to paper over these creaks and shifts. The scenes of war-torn Aleppo are distressingly real, thanks to juddering sound work and Julie Berghoff’s rough-textured production design, while one of the movie’s final setpieces a shivery, waterborne climax staged under unyielding torrents of rain genuinely feels like edge-of-your-seat stuff. No matter how many contrivances it piles up in its second half, “The Strangers’ Case” shares its characters’ anger and despair. Brandt titles his debut after a prescient Shakespeare-penned speech from “Sir Thomas More” in defense of displaced persons: “Would you be pleased to find a nation of such barbarous temper that breaking out in hideous violence would not afford you an abode on earth?” The filmmaker doesn’t have the Bard’s poetry, but he has the plaintive conscience.

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