16 Great Films From This Century That Are About Immigrants

8. It’s a Free World… (2007)

It’s a Free World

Fired from a temporary employment agency, Angie decides to work on her own and start recruiting immigrant workers to join them with her friend Rose. Circumventing the strictures of the law, the business starts to have success. However, Angie loses contact with reality and her son Jamie. Her happiness is illusory and destined to collapse, which occurs following a business failure.

Director Ken Loach touches on an important and difficult topic, namely the opening of borders and the way in which migrant workers are lured to Britain and then exploited.

Like many of his previous films, Loach chose a working class as main character, through which he describes the gradual loss of moral values and the barbarism which is closely linked to the issue of immigration. Loach’s complaint is against the dehumanization created by poverty and an economy that has no rules. It is interesting to discover the many facets of the character of Angie, who alternates acts of inhuman violence with acts of help given to an Iranian family.

Presented at the Venice Film Festival, the movie had considerable success with critics who appreciated the change in style for Loach and the attention given to an important issue.


7. The Visitor (2007)

The Visitor

The economics professor Walter Vale, well into middle age and a widower with a boring life, discovers that his empty apartment in New York City has become the home of two young illegal immigrants. Percussionist Syrian Tarek and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab teach him a new lifestyle and bring a breath of freshness in his days over the course of time.

This is the second film by Tom McCarthy, a writer, director and actor also in other movies, The Visitor revolves around the performance of Richard Jenkins, playing an “ordinary man”, who has made the study of economy his life and is trying to stay connected to the past through his piano, through which he discovers that he has a heart that beats to the rhythm of an African drum.

It’s impossible not to praise Jenkins, in a rare lead role, his first for the big screen and a performance which earned him an Oscar nomination. The strength of the movie lies in the ability to send a precise message of subtle politics and in the guise of a nice story. In fact the political themes are left in the background, while the personal relationships between Walter and the two immigrants through the power of music is given the main focus.


6. In This World (2002)

In This World

Always interested in the relationship between England and the outside world, director Michael Winterbottom presented this film at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival, where he won the Silver Bear for best director.

The film is a mix between a documentary and fiction and follows the adventures of two Afghan cousins living in the refugee camp of Peshawar, Pakistan, and who see a move to London as a hope for a better life.

The two are illegal immigrants, and are forced into a long journey by way of back-channels, bribes, and smugglers. When they finally see London it seems almost a mirage, the director immediately brings recalls Peshawar since the poverty and desperation of thousands of refugees struggling to make it in London back to their old home.

The film is based on a selection of dozens of stories of immigrants that are fused together. Further enhancing the film is the decision to entrust the role of main characters to two immigrant non-professionals actors who possess a deep understanding of the film’s issues.

A film both poetic and raw, it often leaves the viewer alone to judge but still manages to create empathy for the two protagonists, without falling into melodrama and without focusing on pathos.


5. Welcome (2009)


Bilal, a young Kurd, has left his country headed for Calais on his way to England and the girl of his dreams. After a failed attempt to travel clandestinely on a ferry, Bilal has decided to cross the Channel by swimming. In a communal pool he meets Simon, a swimming instructor, middle-aged and separated from his wife. Impressed by the obstinacy and congeniality of the boy, Simon coaches him and encourages him to never give up.

In turn Bilal will open his heart to Simon. However the outside world is challenging and inhospitable and both men will have to face the accusations of neighbors and immigration law which condemns citizens too “enterprising” with others.

Inspired by a true story, the film focuses on the relationship between the two main characters rather than simply describing the legal mechanisms that hinder immigrants. So the racism, inhospitality and the brutality of those who write “Welcome” on the mat and then turn a cold shoulder is brought into focus.


4. Head-On (2004)


In Hamburg, after attempting suicide Cahit meets Sibel who has followed a similar path. Both are of Turkish origins but have been living in Germany for many years. Sibel wants to leave her family in which males command everything and proposes for Cahit to marry her. The boy is actually a rude and penniless alcoholic but when love comes into his life he will become another person.

The film is divided into chapters which director Fatih Akin frames through an orchestra on the banks of the Bosphorus separating the parts in which the film is divided.

Germany is the country which hosts the largest number ever of Turkish immigrants and the film shows a glimpse of their lives. Later in the film the action shifts to Istanbul.

This displays the originality of Akin, who is able to offer to the movie a different rhythm and make the viewer ‘feel’ different before and after the event in Cahit’s life.

This film succeeds thanks to the intense performance of Sibel Kekrill, an amazing soundtrack and the ability of a capable director, who’s open to innovation aligned with the origins of his country.


3. Le Havre (2011)


This latest film by the Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki is set in the French town of Le Havre, an industrial port seemingly inhospitable and cold. It’s in this environment where the shoeshine Marcel Marx lives. His life is shaken by two sequential events: the illness of loyal and loving wife Arletty and the arrival of the immigrant Idrissa, who is by chance in France due to a transport error involving the container in which he was traveling to London.

The old bohemian and the young African have nothing in common but their threatened and marginal lives. Marcel, out of fear of being alone and Idrissa by the failure of the journey that had to take him to London to be his mother are joined together.

The film is actually very simple, it smoothly and calmly addresses the issue of immigration in a really fresh way.

Presented in 2011 at the Cannes Film Festival, the film was relatively successful with critics and the public, and regarded as one of the best films of the Finnish director in recent years.

The film centers on good feelings, dealing with miracles in modern times. Besides the wife’s unexpected recovery and the reuniting of the boy and his mother, Marcel and the whole neighborhood experience another miracle, with the flowering of the cherry tree in winter.


2. Le Silence de Lorna (2008)

Le Silence de Lorna

This 2008 movie is considered a turning-point in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne careers, as it differs from their previous films, L’Enfant and Rosetta.

The film follows the story of Lorna, a young Albanian immigrant who, in order to obtain Belgian citizenship and in exchange for money, has married a drug addict. The dream of the young Lorna is to open a bar and start a new life with her boyfriend Sokol, but to achieve this she should interfere with the mobster Fabio, a taxi driver who has engaged her in a dramatic plan and in a big round of money.

The starting point of the film is undoubtedly the issue of immigration in Europe illegally obtained through false marriages, money, residence citizenship. But the story told is also an opportunity to introduce issues very dear to the Dardenne brothers, as the unpredictability of the people and the role of morality, that is part of human life.

Cannes winner for Best Screenplay, the movie can count on flawless recitations of the characters (especially the young discovery Arta Dobroshi) and strong dialogues, as usual not supported by any soundtrack for a choice of the directors.


1. Gran Torino (2008)

Gran Torino (2008)

With his Gran Torino, a true masterpiece of 2008, Clint Eastwood competes a cinematic trilogy which began with Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby and explores the theme of the responsibility of fathers to their children. Walt Kowalski is a problematic father: a veteran of the Korean War and a widower, he has little contact with his sons and grandchildren, living alone with his dog in a multiethnic suburban neighborhood.

Meeting with the two young neighbors Hmong Tao and Sue will change his life and dent his roughness. Walt will teach the shy and introverted Tao to live as a man, and will open up with the help of jaunty Sue the humanity of other immigrants.

The final scene, a real emotional punch to the stomach, shows that the subject of death has entered into the ideology of the films of Clint Eastwood. Gran Torino marks a peak in the maturity of his work.

The film is extremely interesting in that it handles the immigration issue in an innovative way. There are beautiful sequences on the uses of the Hmong and hilarious exchanges between Kowalski and his Italian-American barber which highlight the film.

A big success at the box office, the film was snubbed at the Oscars despite the fact that it touches on issue of fundamental importance for an increasingly multiethnic America.

Author Bio: Sebastiano graduated in Humanities and is attending a degree in Economics for Arts and Culture. He is interested in art and film ratings, and is a regular follower of Venice Film Festival.