Foreign Body (Corps Etranger) (2016) [Toronto International Film Festival 2016]

foreignbody-01A group of people risks their lives crossing to France in a small, unsafe boat, escaping the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia.  A few of them survive, including Samia who tries to adapt to the life of an illegal in France as best she can.  She comes across some people from back home and a woman willing to help as she discovers the joys and fears of her new life. Writer/director Raja Amari writes and directs a masterful film about a young woman adapting to her new environment.  She shows the plight of many illegal (and legal) immigrants who are escaping violence and bad situations with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

She depicts the ups and downs, joys and fears of moving to a new country, of starting over with hopes for a better life and ghosts of the past threatening to crash everything worked for.  The characters she builds, particularly the two female leads Samia and Leila, are strong women who are learning to live their new lives and adapting to new and sometimes difficult situations.  These characters are layered and complex while going through the gamut emotionally.  The ways the script and direction are handled takes a potentially schmaltzy story and make it a touching and engrossing one.

Playing the two strong female leads are Sarra Hannachi as Samia and Hiam Abbass as Leila, both of them show strength and control over their craft.  They live and breathe their parts making them and the viewer feel what they do as they do.  The way the two women click and connect brings the audience into their relationship.  The way they work together in mostly closed quarters, build their relationship, love, hate; fight through their issues brings them believably close together.  The two actresses bounce off of each other well and with talent, creating a fascinating back and forth.  Also giving a strong performance, in the supporting role of Imed, is Salim Kechiouche who is a catalyst for the second half of the film and who shows a conflicted character who may or may not be bad through his demeanor and on point delivery.

The music by Nicolas Becker supports these performances and adds a lot to the story, creating atmosphere and a feel for the lead character’s culture.  It adds nice touches to scenes, setting up emotions and moving the film along, helping the viewer get in touch in with the emotions on screen without shoving them down their throats. To go with all of this, the cinematography by Aurelien Devaux frames the apartment where a big part of the film happens in a great manner, showing the very French apartment in all its glory.  He also frames the scenes where Samia is walking alone in the city in a way that very well showcases the uneasy feeling and worry at being a woman walking alone in a new city.  His work adds to the viewer’s comprehension of Samia’s situation.

Foreign Body is the touching story of a young woman as she does what she must to survive and rebuild her life in a new country.  It’s also about an older immigrant who has seen what the younger one is living and as she reorganizes her life, she guides this young lady on how to live in France and how to survive as she is relearning herself.  It’s a story of self-discovery, growing up, aging, learning, evolving, and accepting where one came from to be able to move forward.  The performances are great, the music emotional, the story touching.