A Film a Week - Me, We

 previously published on Cineuropa

Five years ago, Paraguay-born, Viennese-based filmmaker David Clay Diaz made his feature debut, a one-of-a-kind, suspenseful mix of genres teetering between crime-drama and psychological thriller called Agonie, which caught the attention of certain film critics. His second feature, the refugee crisis-themed drama Me, We, is at least equally ambitious, but somewhat more typical in terms of its artistic approach. It premiered recently at the Diagonale, while its national theatrical distribution should follow in the middle of the summer.

The action is set in the summer of 2020 in a parallel universe, where the COVID-19 pandemic never happened and did not drive away the ongoing refugee crisis from the media spotlight. It is time for the European Football Championship, which is hogging all the news headlines in Austria. Well, except when an asylum seeker does something to land himself on the front page. The plot of the film follows four Austrian people who all have different points of view on the ongoing crisis.

Marie (Verena Altenberger, from The Best of All Worlds) goes to Greece to take on some volunteer work in a transitional camp for the refugees. She expects to do some good and save some lives, but ends up a little disappointed when she realises that her hands are tied due to the hypocritical EU policies concerning the refugees. Marcel (one of Agonie’s leads, Alexander Srtschin) is a right-leaning young man who cannot stand it when young women are harrassed by foreign people, so he and his buddies organise an escort/protection operation that will help young women in need.

Petra (Barbara Romaner) takes teenage refugee Mohammed (Mehdi Meskar) into her home so she can help him be integrated into society, get asylum and stay in Austria. But when it turns out that Syrian teenager Mohammed is actually a 22-year-old Moroccan economic migrant named Manssur, Petra’s fantasy of being a motherly saviour is put to the test. Or are her intentions actually more sinister? Finally, Gerald (Lukas Miko, scooping the Award for Best Actor at the Diagonale) runs a shelter for asylum seekers and is actually quite devoted to his work and to the cause. But a conflict with one of the residents, the rough and rebellious Aba (Wonderful Idowu), could turn in him into the hard-nosed, vengeful and scheming man he never thought he could become.

The four stories are laid out simultaneously in a mosaic-like structure, so they do not intersect with each other anywhere in the plot, but they do offer a chance for Diaz and his co-screenwriter Senad Halibašić to explore the different angles, which they do in a way that is more didactic and polemic than intriguing, per se. The actors are well cast in their roles, but even during the two-hour running time, they do not have enough leeway to explore their characters and make them more lifelike. As such, they are functional and serve as mere tools to lay out the political and ethical points of the situation. Nor does Diaz get a proper chance to show off his directing talent, so he relies on rather classical solutions. However, the editing by Lisa Zoe Geretschläger is commendable, making Me, We (the title is taken from the shortest poem in the world, credited to boxer Muhammad Ali) easy to follow.

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