A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"In this World" tells the story of a 16-year-old Afghan boy who journeys by land and sea to London from a refugee camp in Pakistan. What makes the film astonishing is that it follows a real boy on a real journey, and the boy is in England at this moment. What's real and what's fiction in the film is hard to say, but we trust that the images are informed by truth, and there is a scene at night in the mountains of Turkey where it looks as if real gunfire is being aimed at the travelers.
The film's hero is Jamal Udin Torabi, playing himself. He lives with his family in a refugee camp in Pakistan. His uncle, Wakeel, wants to send his son Enayat to London; Jamal speaks English and is allowed to go along as a translator and companion. The two make a deal with a professional smuggler of humans, who starts them off on a long journey through Iran, Turkey, Italy and France.
The film is not a documentary, although many scenes might as well be. Director Michael Winterbottom and his cinematographer, Marcel Zyskind, shot with a small digital camera, and many shots were apparently taken without the knowledge of the people in them. I learn that the film's producer, Anita Overland, worked as an advance scout, staying a day or two ahead of Winterbottom and his actors and arranging scenes -- up to a point, we gather. Most of the dialogue is improvised, based on a script by Tony Grisoni, who interviewed others who had made the journey.
We read all the time of ships, trucks and containers filled with human beings desperate to live in another land. Sometimes this illegal cargo arrives dead, and there is an agonizing scene in "In This World" where Jamal, his uncle and many others are locked inside a shipping container where the air is running out and their desperate cries and bangings cannot be heard. Jamal survives this and other harrowing experiences with a resilience, adaptability and defiant wit that is impossible to fake: The real Jamal, like the Jamal he plays in the movie, must be a both a heroic survivor, and quite a character.