Green Border review – an angry and urgent masterpiece about Europe’s migrant crisis

Agnieszka Holland’s vital drama about refugees stranded between Belarus and Poland could hardly be more topical

“They aren’t people. They are live bullets.” The dehumanisation of refugees has long been a key weapon in anti-migrant rhetoric. But even so, it’s hard to overstate the sickening gut-punch impact of this line of dialogue in Green Border, Agnieszka Holland’s formidable, furious masterpiece about the 2021 humanitarian crisis that unfolded in the exclusion zone between Poland and Belarus. The line is delivered during a rousing address from a senior official to a roomful of Polish border guards; the intention is to snuff out any lingering empathy that the guards might feel for the desperate, frightened people who have managed to cross the border from Belarus. The sentiment, we learn, has filtered down from the very top of the Polish power structure.

And it’s this – the vilification of refugees and casual cruelty that meets them – that Holland confronts with her remarkable drama. These are not, the film stresses, just statistics in a geopolitical game of one-upmanship. These are scared and vulnerable people who find themselves pawns in an impossible situation: they are three generations of a family who have fled Islamic State in Syria; an earnest, educated Afghan woman who hopes to join her brother; three music-mad teenagers from Africa; and a heavily pregnant woman who fears for the life of her unborn child. They could be any one of us.

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