journal Barzakh – atmospheric study of undocumented migrants in limbo | Documentary films

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Owriting with a solemn quote from the Quran defining ‘Barzakh’ – a liminal space between the dead and the afterlife – Alejandro G Salgado’s grim documentary evokes the same atmosphere of indeterminacy, creating both a geographic and an emotional state of perpetual desire. Shot entirely at night on the coast of Melilla, which becomes another world after dark, the film observes, often from a distance, young undocumented Nepalese boys who wait and hope to cross to Europe.

Hidden in the cavernous hollows of the rocky cliffs of this tiny Spanish enclave, these boys are shrouded in shadows. As well as hiding their identities, the nocturnal cinematography also highlights the austere contours of their makeshift shelters, which seem to engulf their entire little figures. The boys sing traditional devotional songs together: the sweet nostalgia contrasts sharply with the cacophony of the ocean waves, suggesting the arduous journeys they will soon embark on.

They talk about daily survival, like catching fish for food or how to warm up with a fire that is only fed with cardboard. Tired of cold and unforgiving nights, they also fear the dangers of sneaking on boats to reach Europe. Barely adults themselves, boys even dream of raising children. It is this mirage that drives them through seemingly endless limbo.

While the dark cinematography is at times a bit impenetrable, and the film comes close to over-poetizing the experiences of its subjects, this documentary remains a poignant watch, highlighting the psychological and physical toll of crossing borders.

Barzakh releases October 15 on True Story.


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