Human traffic

  • Datum 14-04-2011
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Refugees mainly think about the end of the ride and hardly ever about the ride itself. Mike Naafs on films that depict the harsh reality of people smuggling.

How do people survive in this world? A basic question which can be answered in an equally basic manner: either they leave or they stay. Out of all the animals, human beings are the ones most able to move to other environments if the one they are living in turns out to be unlivable. A sick and tired moose in Finland can’t go for a walk to — let’s say — France or Switzerland, but a human being can get himself onto a boat, or into a container and go somewhere else, where there is less war, less problems, more money. Off to a place where he or she thinks all problems will be solved. A moose doesn’t think like that. It doesn’t possess the accompanying illusions either.
Illusions are precisely what cause the problem. People that are trying to get away mainly think about the end of the ride. And hardly ever about the ride itself. The two boys in Michael Winterbottom’s in this world leave Pakistan to get to England, they collect the money for the trip, and give it to the people who will take them there. Smugglers. People smugglers, who don’t deal in microwaves, televisions or even moose, but in fellow human beings. No other animal treats its own kind the way human beings do. As a people smuggler you have to be, in the words of David Brent, one hundred percent behind someone to stab them in the back.
The smugglers try to survive by staying in one place and trading anything they can get their hands on. The people that are being smuggled have traded enough so they can afford to get away. And although this sounds like a fair deal, in most cases it’s not. The ones leaving are always the ones that get stabbed in the back. Like Sonia in Theresa Villaverde’s transe. The way of the people traders is as follows: firstly win the trust of your victims. Reassure them. "Come, walk with me. Please?" Then, when they are out of their environment and disorientated, betray them, and gain full control, so you can trade the goods in a cornfield, and sell your bait to — naturally — another man for a box of valuables. "I don’t wanna know where you’re going, because I don’t wanna know your destiny", he says. Next deal.
Lukas Moodysson’s Lilya is — like Sonia — an ideal prey for a smuggler. She just runs off, with nothing but her body, desperate to get away. I’m better off somewhere else! But Moodysson shows that she isn’t, the ride is horrific as always, and in Sweden Lilya gets humiliated even more, so much that she loses everything, and her heart burns for the last time. Maybe they should show lilya 4 ever together with transe in every remote Russian town for wannabe Lilyas and Sonias. Look! You don’t know nothing! You don’t know what it is like! There is a war amongst people. In this world.

Money transfer is what human traffic amounts to. Follow the money. Osmosis is the process of water molecules moving from an area of low concentration to an area of high concentration until a state of equilibrium is achieved. People particles do exactly the same. They move to the place with the highest concentration of money. But in this case an equilibrium will never be reached. The smuggler is the semi-permeable cell membrane which supervises this process, standing at the border, collecting. Like Ray Eddy in Courtney Hunt’s frozen river, a film also showing at the IFFR 2009. Fair enough, she does it reluctantly at first, putting immigrants in the trunk of her car and driving them across the frozen river, but she quickly falls for the cash. Unfortunately, at the end, no backstabbing: Ray Eddy is above all a real moral human being, just like all Americans believe they are, and tries to do something good.
There will be illusions and there will be users of illusions. Always have been. Always will be. We are a virus with shoes. There have been humans and there has been traffic. And one day, at one point or another, they meet, usually in a port, and along comes the same old question, which is also present in the Tiger Award nominee be calm and count to seven: Do you also take on humans? Do you do human traffic? Ironically, unlike all the films mentioned above, the question in Ramtin Lavafipour’s film is never answered. This is a film about human traffic without the actual traffic. The fisherman quickly talks about something different and the director is too concerned with portraying a lyrical community to open his eyes to reality; instead he transforms it, and makes the subject part of a fairytale, which furthermore consists of lost fathers, dry trees, and pearls in oysters.
Once upon a time there was a Persian Gulf community where a boy grew up, dreaming about Ronaldinho, once a trader in goods himself, but before he got into humans, his talent for being a fabulous football player was picked up, and now he travels all over the world. Not in containers or pick-up trucks, or in leaking boats with nothing but salt water surrounding you, but on first class airlines. As a tourist. Because tourism is the absolute opposite of human traffic, it is anti-osmosis, completely unnatural. Tourists seek their own smugglers, the tourist agencies, without even realizing they’re being exploited. Like the viewers of Lavafipour’s film, they can watch the film projected in front of their eyes and feel comfortable: going to a faraway place and showing interest in a region for a little while, as if you where looking at a postcard. How nice. And afterwards you’ll go back to your own safe, regulated life. But one day you will be looking out of the window, wondering why all those people particles are marching your way, trying to find what you already own for so long but have forgotten to fully appreciate. Because for you, dear viewer from the land of plenty, there has never been a war amongst people. Until now…

Mike Naafs

Mike Naafs studied film at the University of Amsterdam where he was also the chief editor for the student film magazine. After graduating he worked for a number of film festival newspapers and magazines. Currently he is a columnist for de Filmkrant.

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