EUFF 2017: The Citizen
Wilson (Dr. Cake-Baly Marcelo) has been trying to pass the citizenship test for years. He is a political refugee in Hungary having lost his wife, and two daughters who are still missing, in a conflict in his native land Guinea-Bissau. He works as a security guard in a supermarket and lives in an apartment complex that mainly houses new arrivals. Working as a security guard, Wilson studies the test material but the finer points just don’t stick.
After his friend Prince leaves for a job in Austria, one of his acquaintances, Shirin (Arghavan Shekari), arrives to Hungry just about ready to give birth. When not working, or looking out for Shirin and her child, Wilson starts studying for his test with his boss’ sister Mari (Ágnes Máhr), who is a history teacher. Instead of mainly looking at books, she takes him to several of the actual locations around town to teach him how to internalize the material. Mari, having been cooped up at home caring for her husband and two grown boys, comes to life in these outings and is surprised by her growing closeness to Wilson.
Director Roland Vranik presents a timely story as the migrant crisis in Europe, and growing nationalism around the world, is a hotly debated topic. Unlike Shirin who hides in the shadows without papers, Wilson is a hardworking contributor to society wanting only to have a fair shot at becoming a citizen. However, the sentiment of he “is not like us” bubbles beneath the surface at every turn in this film.
Dr. Cake-Baly Marcelo, who himself came to Hungary as a refugee, is steady, kind and thoughtful in his first acting role. He manages to measured demeanor to the character despite the dubious roadblocks put in his way by the locals. Ágnes Máhr produces a complex performance as Mari. She is introduced as a tough no nonsense teacher, but soon softens in the presence of her attentive and expressive new student. Look for István Znamenák as Hentes, Wilson’s sonly local friend who injects some comedic moments into what is otherwise heavy narrative.
The Citizen is a stirring film that provides an interesting perspective to the European migrant crisis.