25 Degrees in Winter

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 06/11/04 23:34:23

"Precocious kid + goofy Belgian father + Ukrainian refugee = good times"
5 stars (Awesome)

Oh, sure, you've seen it all before. The Belgian single father struggling to make ends meet meets the Ukrainian refugee trying to find her husband and they drive all over the countryside on a wild goose chase with his mother and daughter in tow... oh, that old chestnut? Well rejoice good people who like quality foreign film, because 25 Degrees In Winter is a rarity - a family film with an edge, a love story without sugar, a screwball comedy without rolling of the eyes, and a multi-layered look at how migrants are used, abused and ultimately necessary in today's society. You want it in one word? How about 'Great'?

Miguel (Jacques Gamblin) is a single Belgian dad working for his brother's travel agency. But while he's definitely the lone parent in his home equation, he lives in hope that his wife will one day return after she's sought her fame and fortune as a singer in America. She doesn't write (to him), she doesn't call, and deep down Miguel knows that she's chosen a better life over her family. But if for not other reason than to keep his daughter's spirits up, Miguel maintains the lifestyle of a man waiting for his wife to come bak from holiday.

That is, until he encounters a woman (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) hiding in the backseat of his van. Her name is Sonia, and she's recently escaped from detention on the evening she was supposed to be deported back to her native Ukraine. Sonia wants to find her husband who, like Miguel's wife, left years earlier in search of a better existence elsewhere.

Miguel may be a screw up, but he's also a decent guy, so before long he's taking Maria all over town in search of her long lost man, as his mother (Carmen Maura) and daughter cling to every word in the back seat, while his boss roars down the cell phone, his gangster landlord hunts him down for rent, and the cops seem to be around every corner in search of Sonia.

25 Degrees in Winter is a beautiful movie that continually threatens to get out of hand, yet never does. Throwing together a variety of peopple from all walks of life, it succeeds in showing the audience not only how awfully migrants are treated in many countries, but also how we're all migrants from somewhere. As Miguel's mother casts aspersions at Sonia for being an illegal, Miguel points out the she herself was in the exact same situation once, while at the same time Miguel's boss is rushing his own illegal staff members out the back door to avod the 'workplace inspectors'.

To be able to paint both the heroes or the piece and the supposed villains as all being victim of the same situation, director Stephane Vuillet and writers Pedro Romero and Stephane Malandrin have weaved the kind of story that makes an audience not only laugh along and cheer in theright spots, but also look at themselves and wonder whether this imaginary line that separates us all really does make 'us' better than 'them'. When a migrant gets their papers and becomes 'one of us', don't they then look down on those who have yet to make the same journey? And those of us looking down on the newly arrived or those on the other side who long to be amongst us, aren't we simply the result of people like them who got here first?

To think that a country as 'civilized' as Belgium has the same problem with people longing to leave for the next big step up as, say, the Ukraine does, really makes you think about the world. What makes our home better? And do we really appreciate what we have and what our ancestors went through to get us there? After 25 Degrees in Winter, I sure as heck do. Great stuff.

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