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It’s Burning (Es Brennt)

A shockingly racist confrontation symbolises a systemic problem in this prescient German drama - from the 32nd edition of Raindance

Trom Germany comes a film with a universal issue. Omar and Amal (Kida Khodr Ramadan and Halima Ilter) are a German-born couple of Arab origin living happily with their young son Ahmad (Emir Kadir Taskin) and a baby on the way. Their life is shattered when, one day, Amal politely asks a stranger (Nicolas Garin) if he could get off a playground swing so that Ahmad can use it. The man racially abuses her, starting a chain of events that will shatter Omar and Amal’s lives.

For the most part, the film makes its case quietly, with moments of horror shaking you out of its rhythm. Turkish director Erol Afsin works to convey the happiness of the family’s life, and the way in which it is decimated by one incident. Everyday scenes of work, play, and family time slowly crumble into concerned phone calls from parents and handwringing from close friends. It shows the way in which victimhood becomes a frustratingly passive experience, even when dealing with allies. One agonising scene simply focuses on the couple, staring at the floor as friends debate what to do offscreen. Omar shuts down a white coworker who claims to understand, but clearly doesn’t.

Iter and Ramadan deliver wonderful performances, in a modest portrayal of two people observing an upsetting lack of justice. Ilter shows Amal to be on guard, unsure to even tell her husband what has happened because this is not a new experience for her. As Omar, Ahmad is a heart-breaking flurry of impotent rage. The viewer half expects him to do something rash, to take matters into his own hands. That moment never comes, but watching a good man emotionally scarred by what is happening to him is almost as harrowing.

One drawback is that the film doesn’t offer any new arguments. The scale of the racism is horrifying, the ineffectiveness of the justice system galling, but at times can struggle to make sense of any of it. It’s perhaps best viewed by those who aren’t a target of this hatred, as a path of understanding the barriers others face in the most everyday tasks.

The camera observes from afar, but becomes dynamic when in the courtroom. It doesn’t shy away from the hatred the family is facing, personified by the abuser, played with chilling realism by Nicolas Garin. With slicked back hair and simmering fury in his eyes, he portrays a man utterly convinced of his own superiority to his fellow humans, the product of so many right-wing slogans and poisoned arguments. It’s frightening to watch, particularly when the character is so far from the cartoonish racism portrayed in mainstream cinema. This darkness feels tangible, inspired as it was from real events.

Ending on a shocking and upsetting note, It’s Burning has a pressing message to convey, doing do with a understated passion for the most part. It may not be the most emotionally satisfying film to watch, but for those who aren’t in the firing line it is a wakeup call you will think about for a long time.

It’s Burning premiered at the 40th Munich Film Festival, when this piece was originally written. The UK premiere takes place during the 32nd edition of Raindance, which takes place between June 19th and 28th in the British capital

By Victoria Luxford - 26-06-2023

London-born Victoria Luxford has been a film critic and broadcaster since 2007, writing about cinema all over the world. Beginning with regional magazines and entertainment websites, she soon built up...

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