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The Stranger’s Case

Cutting between seven central characters in Syria and Greece, director Brandt Andersen paints a jarring fable about survival, sincerity and family - refugee drama premieres at the 32nd edition of Raindance/ also in the Official Competition of the 2nd Mediterrane Film Festival, in Malta

Brandt Andersen’s debut feature grapples with the topic of war and how it devastates an ordinary family. It casts a wide net, cataloguing multiple personalities and perspectives.

Dividing the film into individual chapters, Andersen follows the structure of a novel, letting one person dictate the flow of a particular section. There’s a doctor narrowly surviving a bomb attack after a gruelling 72-hour shift; a father piecing together what little money he has to get his children over to Greece; and a marine captain counting the faces of the many who drowned on his watch. What connects all these strands is a boat that hoards too many refugees and a rocky sea that claims too many lives for comfort.

Considering the size of the cast – seven people could rightfully call themselves the lead – it’s hard to single out a more noteworthy protagonist, but Omar Sy’s Marwan comes closest to playing the baddie. Marwan is a capitalist: It doesn’t bother him whether or not the refugees on the boat survive the journey, provided they pay him money to voyage it. Armed with a gun, Marwan uses it to prove his points, threatening customers to come promptly and with notes: “We don’t accept American Express.”

Tellingly, Marwan jumps off the sea vessel before it sails into a thunderous night, leading to a frightening stunt bolstered by raw grit and nerves. The rain pours onto the boat, flooding the convoy of women and children who are too vulnerable to swim through the ocean. Suddenly, a ship appears, which pleases the passengers, but there’s no way all 28 of them can make it to safety.

The Stranger’s Case is an ambitious work, and packs a great deal into a strangely compact runtime; not even two hours. Out of all the setpieces, it’s the ones that are set in the water that make the lasting impact, but that’s not to say there aren’t moments of introspection felt during the quieter sections. Amira (Yasmine Al Massri) looks at her daughter with affection, having come to the end of a particularly difficult stint at the hospital; Stavros (Constantine Markoulakis) contemplates the future he can leave for his son when he failed to rescue 1,000 Syrians from a watery grave. Death hangs over every expression.

These little interludes between family members helps relieve some of the bleakness from what is an uncompromising work about survival; shorn of them, and the film would be much harsher to sit through. Even someone as unscrupulous as Marwan has a softer side, which is evident when he plays with his toddler at home.

The Stranger’s Case might boasts scale and genuine moments of horror. Filmed in Jordan and Turkey, Andersen’s work jumps from location to location, building a world based on fear and fury; survival dependent on the person’s eagerness to fulfil it. Heartbreakingly, a young girl is told to let go of her puppy for an uncertain voyage, her eyes wet as she does so.

By the time the film closes, Andersen elects to return to these spots via a montage, the camera floating over some of the side characters who have had to live with the consequences their pals created. A motion is only a movement until someone else gets hurt.

The Stranger’s Case premieres in the 32nd Raindance Film Festival, which takes place in London between June 19th and 28th. Also showing in the Official Competition of the 2nd Mediterrane Film Festival, in Malta.

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