Midnight Traveler

 

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A family flee the Taliban in this portrait of a journey filmed as it happened.

 
midnight traveller
 

In March of 2015 the Afghan filmmaker Hassan Fazili learnt that the Taliban were calling for his death. He was tipped off by an indebted friend whom he had met in Iran but who had subsequently himself joined the Taliban and, once aware of the situation he was in, Fazili felt that he had no choice left. He was a family man with a wife, Fatima Hossaini who was also a filmmaker, and two young daughters, Nargis (whose thoughtful voice over opens the film) and Zahra. He saw the risk of staying put as being greater than to set out with his family in a desperate bid to obtain asylum abroad. It would turn out to be a journey of 3500 miles that would take three years (the film opens on 'Day 1' in Tajikistan and it sees the family passing through numerous countries including Iran, Turkey and Serbia). En route they would be tricked by the man they had paid to get them out, arrested by the authorities in Bulgaria, placed in refugee camps and then kept for months in a transit zone as they waited until their place on the list of those allowed into Hungary came up.

 

The fact that Fazili was a filmmaker explains his decision that he would from the outset film their journey using mobile phones to do so. Since this is a piece about the day-to day experiences of the person who made it recorded even as it happened, one is inevitably reminded of last year's memorable documentary For Sama. More unexpectedly, although there is naturally nothing here akin to the virtual single shot in this year's drama 1917, that film also comes to mind when watching Midnight Traveler for here too the audience feels immersed in watching a single mission, in this case the escape bid which in one form or another makes up the entire film.

 

The situation of immigrants has been shown in many recent films including the broad depiction magnificently rendered in Ai Weiwei's Human Flow (2017), but there's no doubt that by restricting itself to the experiences of a single family Midnight Traveler attains its own special impact and that arises because viewers feel that they are sharing directly in the hazardous journey as it unfolds on screen. Other elements also contribute to making this film memorable. There is, for example, the appeal of the four travellers themselves, be it the immensely engaging character of the two youngsters or the honesty that is felt by not excluding domestic disputes that on occasion arise between the parents.  Then again, when it comes to the visual quality of the piece the fact that Fazili was already a man of the cinema means that the images he has captured on his mobile phones display the eye of a true filmmaker. Not everyone will want to see a film as inevitably bleak as Midnight Traveler, but the undoctored nature of the reporting, its directness and the opportunity for viewers to identify so intimately with people forced to become refugees make this a document of real value.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Hassan Fazili, Fatima Hossaini, Nargis Fazili, Zahra Fazili.

 

Dir Hassan Fazili, Pro Emilie Mahdavian and Su Kim, Screenplay Emilie Mahdavian, Ph Hassan Fazili, Fatima Hossaini, Nargis Fazili and Zahra Fazili, Ed Emilie Mahdavian, Music Gretchen Jude.

 

Old Chilly Pictures/Cinetic Media & Doc and Film International/Fork Films-Dogwoof.
88 mins. USA/Qatar/UK/Canada. 2019. Rel: 17 January 2020. Cert. 15.