Endless newsreel and column inches have been devoted to Europe’s migrant crisis over the past decade, and we are no nearer to getting to grips with the problem. This documentary by Croatian director Tiha Gudac opens up a fresh perspective by focusing principally on the effects on destination or transit countries: namely a beautifully sylvan stretch of the Croat-Slovenian border demarcated by the Kupa River and, now, horrible lengths of coiled razor wire laid down by the EU to prevent migrants from breaching the Schengen area.
The border fence sullies farmland and forests, complicates river tourism and separates Croatian and Slovenian communities who have ties going back centuries. The Balkan region is one with particular sensitivity to artificial segregation, and the local people tentatively fight back: early on, we see Croats and Slovenians joining up for a cross-border fun run. For those with long memories, this grim palisade, and the inhumane rejection of non-Europeans it implies, chimes with wartime fascism. But not everyone sees it that way: one father, mother and daughter spend their family time crawling under the wire to scope out points on the frontier where interlopers might be hiding.
It’s a dizzyingly complex issue and nearly impossible to draw a line around. Gudac’s focus perhaps begins to drift when it shifts to a Bosnia-set segment among the spurned migrants. Up to now, they have only been present as faceless voices, and this elaboration – a moving reflection on these lost boys’ need for a mother – doesn’t completely move beyond facile symbolism. (The 2021 Dutch documentary Shadow Game, also on True Story, is more specific about the migrant experience.)
The Wire musters its most cutting absurdities from the other side of a divide that, regularly breached, is an exercise in futility. EU compensation for landowners hosting the razor wire apparently runs to €1 a metre every two years. As one farmer puts it: “Only an idiot would fuck up his land for that amount.”