Title: Leave To Remain
Director: Bruce Goodison
Major Players: Toby Jones, Noof Ousellam, Zarrien Masieh
Out Of Five: 3
Like so many contemporary films, Bruce Goodison’s Leave To Remain is based on real events, but unlike most of them, it uses stories which have probably never been heard before. The film started to take shape at an academy which gave unaccompanied young asylum seekers the chance to train in movie making. The director himself came up with a three year project which would train a cast and crew for a film relating the experiences of teenagers seeking asylum in this country.
The resulting film had a couple of screenings at last year’s London Film Festival and now gets a limited release around the UK this week. A group of young people in East London are all applying for asylum. The oldest among them, Omar (Noof Ousellam) escaped to the UK from Afghanistan some years ago and is seen by them as their unofficial leader. He’s also trusted by their teacher, Nigel (Toby Jones) who actively supports his application for asylum. But the arrival of another, younger Afghan, Abdul (Zarrien Masieh) threatens to derail his application. They clearly knew each other before and it’s a secret Omar wants to keep buried.
With the exception of Jones and possibly Ousellam, the cast is populated by unknowns and, especially in the case of the asylum seekers, it brings a freshness and authenticity to their performances. This is especially the case during the improvised scenes, where they respond to being freed from the constraints of a script. The chaotic staging of a nativity play is perhaps the best example.
Goodison’s documentary background means there are times when the film comes closer to being a docu-drama. The interview scenes with hard faced Home Office officials have exactly that feel, while the sometimes blurred, hand held camera work, brings a spontaneity. When the increasingly fragile Abdul makes a frantic attempt at cookery, it also creates a sense of mounting panic. News footage of asylum seekers attempting to enter the UK illegally is all too familiar, but the film gives the audience a more personal perspective, especially as the members of the group are not much more than children who’ve had to find their own way to the UK – with all the potential dangers that entails.
It’s a serious subject and Leave To Remain is a film that takes itself seriously. But, as it progresses, the storyline increasingly rambles, begging the question if there is actually enough here for a full length feature film. At its heart is Omar’s asylum application and his connection with Abdul, which becomes increasingly more distressing for the younger boy. All the other stories are just sub-plots and, while they give – sometimes shocking – insights into some of the other characters and their backgrounds, they don’t really take the story further forward.
Toby Jones, as ever, is excellent as Omar’s biggest supporter, the teacher Nigel. A kind, practical man, he’s so practical than he’s prepared to bend the truth to help the young man’s application. But as Abdul mental and physical frailty grows and the truth of how he and Omar knew each other unfolds, Nigel finds himself questioning all the values he’s lived by and his own personal actions in helping Omar.
One moment, however, delivers a killer blow. A single, solitary line of dialogue turns everything completely on its head, making the audience frantically run through the film in their minds to work out if they could have seen it coming. And to make sure they’ve understood it correctly. Suddenly, from just sympathising with the asylum seekers, the mammoth size of the whole problem flashes in front of our eyes.
Leave To Remain is released in major cities around the UK from Friday, 20 June.