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Reviews for Shadow Game ( 2021 )

Very different view on immigration attempts and obstacles underway. No downtrodden scenes with overcrowded boats and near-drowning people (IMDB: 8)

On: 7/1/2021 12:00:00 AM By: JvH48
I missed this movie when it premiered at the Movies That Matter 2021 documentary festival in The Hague, because of overlapping with another film festival. After that, I had to wait more than half a year for the Corona-restrictions to be lifted, allowing us to visit movie theaters again. I saw it scheduled in Rotterdam, more particular in the Lantaren Venster venue. With me, on a safe 3-meter distance, there was one (1) other visitor on a dreary Thursday morning. Never mind, as I did not come for a sociable theater visit.

During IDFA 2017, I saw so many documentaries about migration flows packed in 10 days, that I was fed up with seeing the same issues over and over again. Apart from that, I saw movies undeservedly praised by everyone (example: Human Flow, Ai Weiwei 2017), contrary to evenso undeservedly unnoticed movies (example: Another News Story, Orban Wallace 2017). At the time, I promised myself to steer clear of this topic for several years. And I did, not until July 2021 counter my own resolution for the first time with this documentary, being different altogether as per each synopsis I've read. And it WAS refreshingly different.

The most important takeaway were some numbers cited. In an early scene we see one of the protagonists telling already having walked 5,000 km, with still 1,200 km to go before reaching their intended destination. (The film makers conveniently showed maps at several instances.) Later, we hear another one saying that they already made some 50 attempts to cross a particular border, but were always detected, resulting in their phones destroyed or taken away, frequently being beaten up or even expressly tortured, to finally be brought back to the same camp they recently left full of hope. As a result, most were already underway for many years (up to 4) without having a clear timeline on ending their journey.

Daunting statistics, indeed. Especially when you are aware that these boys (none of the protagonists in sight were girls) were chosen and sent out by their families, the latter apparently still succeeded to survive in their home countries. Their mission had the express purpose, as we learn from them, once arrived in Europe, to arrange their family to come over to their new home country. I wonder how those same families were able to support them financially throughout their journey. Contacts by phone were short and superficial mostly, sometimes even lying about their progress and their health, also telling that the cameras in their phones were not good enough to send pictures of the place where they lived.

The term "game" is present very dominantly in all the conversations (hence the film title). It may be a survival mechanism to cope with the many setbacks and thus the repeated attempts to deal with the next obstacle before them (the term "reach the next level" (like in games) is used several times). It is obvious that many of the "scenes" we witness, are filmed by the boys themselves. Sometimes they say to regret that parts of their undertakings could not be filmed when they had to run while keeping a safe distance from the police.

It is important to stress that their phones are invaluable tools in many respects: to stay in contact with their family and fellow "travelers", to navigate (GPS) their way in unknown territory, and to show us some distant views on border infrastructure with watch towers and impressive fences. It seems a miracle that they always succeed in procuring new phones when destroyed or taken by the police, given their limited finances, but they have no choice because being helpless without. Anyway, it is an uneven battle, as the police uses infrared (night) cameras and drones to see them approaching and can spot their phones while communicating with the radio towers. The police also have no mercy whatsoever when mistreating them physically as well as their phones as an obvious deterrent from subsequent attempts.

The population of "protagonists" (is that the correct term here??) consists of 10 to 20 boys of adolescent ages, originating from a wide variety of countries. Their appearance is not in a strict order, and thus we see the word "mosaic" appear in almost every synopsis. It provides for a colorful and varied view on them, a mixture of stories behind why they left their home countries, and also a variety in stages of their emigration process. Some eventually reach Europe, others got stuck underway, and some didn't survive the journey. Their personal stories are far more interesting than watching overcrowded boats and near-drowning immigrants, seemingly inevitable in other movies about the same subject.