February 22, 2018 / 9:26 PM / 7 months ago

A wartime tragedy resurfaces in Berlinale refugee study

BERLIN (Reuters) - Decades after he won a Silver Bear prize for a pioneering film about the fate of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, Swiss director Markus Imhoof returns to the Berlinale with “Eldorado”, a meditation on Europe’s attitudes to refugees arriving today.

Director, screenwriter and producer Markus Imhoof attends a news conference to promote the movie Eldorado at the 68th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, February 22, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Imhoof’s 1981 “The Boat is Full” shone a light on Switzerland’s decision to send Jewish refugees back to certain death in Germany during World War Two.

For Eldorado he was prompted by the new refugees to remember his own childhood friendship with an Italian refugee girl, Giovanna, who his parents took in.

“The experience, to live with a sister coming from war was - all my life the presence of refugees,” he said.

The film blends episodes involving his tragic wartime friendship with today’s exodus of refugees to Europe.

In the film, an Italian naval ship off the coast of Syria fishes 1,800 boat people from the Mediterranean. Taken to a refugee camp, they are the lucky ones, spared the fate of the thousands who have drowned attempting to cross the sea.

“This film (about wartime Jewish refugees) was called The Boat is Full, and now the boats really are full,” he said. “The boat is full, reloaded 40 years later. And it’s a pity the story is not ended yet.”

Never afraid to tackle awkward subjects, Imhoof has seen at least two of his films banned or censored. It took almost a decade for Switzerland to allow the screening of his 1968 expose of the reality in the country’s prison system.

And yet even he struggled to come to terms with the fate of his childhood friendship.

“My producers and the editors tried to get more secrets out of me,” he said. “I was not sure if I would allow the audience to know all these secrets.”

Driven by the desire to give the human face to refugees that Giovanna was eventually denied, Imhoof seeks in Eldorado to portray the lives of some of those who come now. One, now working as a dishwasher in a Paris restaurant, will be in attendance at the premiere.

“His plan is to go back to Africa to become a politician,” Imhoof said.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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