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Beneath the Radar: Birds of Heaven

Birds of Heaven is a superbly crafted, tough and touching immigrant drama, with a new take on this complex issue. Otho (Djédé Apali) and Shad (Fraser James) are working illegally in Sp...

Birds of Heaven is a superbly crafted, tough and touching immigrant drama, with a new take on this complex issue.

Otho (Djédé Apali) and Shad (Fraser James) are working illegally in Spain to raise money for their families in the Ivory Coast. During a police raid, Otho is arrested and deported while Shad escapes, eventually making it to London. There he meets the bisexual Tango (Maria-Josee Croze) with whom he moves to Paris. Shamed by his failure to provide for his family, Otho becomes increasingly desperate in his attempts to return to Europe. Circumstances begin to conspire against both men and their chances of achieving their goals.

Director Eliane de Latour gives an insight into the cultural pressure on the immigrants to succeed, by splitting screen time between their struggles in Europe and their family’s economic plight in Africa.  As referenced in the animated opening sequence, the émigrés desperately want to replicate the heroics of the legendary Ivorian warriors, finding fortune and returning triumphant to their homeland.  

British actor Fraser James excels here as Shad, riffing rhythmically in French and English with the shady backstreet characters of Paris and London. His relationship with Tango lends humanity and humour, a perfect narrative counterpoint to the grim situation. Djédé Apali is a perfect study of frustration, trapped in his homeland and viewed as a pariah for failing his family.
     
This is not a morally didactic tale, neither condemning nor condoning the sometimes amoral actions of its characters. Former anthropologist de Latour has not only provided a gripping drama, but also a vital contribution to this hotly debated issue.

Birds of Heaven is showing on  17 and 18 August at Cineworld.

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