The realities of refugee life are captured with stunning passivity in Egil Håskjold Larsen’s understated 69 Minutes of 86 Days.  The film follows a refugee family en route to Sweden, careful to observe the journey, not comment.  The brilliance of the film lay in a stylistic choice that forces the spectator into the perspective of the most vulnerable and least understanding member of the family:  3-year-old Lean.

The camera is a fly-on-the-wall, only without a wall.  It observes the family from the same point-of-view as Lean.  Usually, this sets the camera about a meter off the ground, giving the audience a frame full of adult legs, low angles, and a reduced perspective of the greater context.

Occasionally, Lean is carried in the arms of her father or uncle, and only during these times does Larsen pick the camera up to an adult eye level.  Once you get into this diminutive perspective, the wayward uncertainty of this trek is palpable.  Lean may not know precisely what is going on – she doesn’t seem to understand the difference between Germany and Sweden – but dialogue reveals that she understands more than we might assume.

Larsen’s camera is mute, contributing nothing beyond observation.  This pays off in some touching scenes.  As the family is waiting for a ride to the train station that may never come, they start to wonder if they’ve been ripped off and will miss the train.  Lean’s father doesn’t contribute to the conversation, but he wipes a single tear out of his eye, the helplessness and fear obvious.

69 Minutes of 86 Days believes that simply presenting the plight of a refugee family will convey all of its harrowing themes.  After these scant 69 minutes have passed, it appears that Larsen’s gambit has paid off.

Saturday, April 29, 7:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sunday, April 30, 12:30 PM, Scotiabank
Sunday, May 7, 3:30 PM, Aga Khan Museum
Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.

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