Does it Take Friendship to Realize that Illegal Immigrants are the Same as You and Me?
by vflor1 on November 19, 2013 - 11:00am
If someone came to you for help with a goal that was nearly impossible to achieve, would you be willing to help him or her? What if you had never met him or her before? What if it was illegal to even socialize with them? These are the questions Simon Calmat had to ask himself when an illegal immigrant named Bilal showed up at his public pool asking for swimming lessons (Welcome Lioret). Bilal was a 17-year-old Kurd. He left his home in Iraq and walked day and night for three months in hope that he would be able to sneak onto a ferry and cross the English Channel into England. Illegal immigration is not taken well in Europe, especially England. Bilal soon discovered this when he was caught, arrested, and sent back to Calais. Calais, the port in Northern France, is where Bilal and Simon’s paths crossed and their lives changed.
Simon’s life before Bilal was one led by the depression of a failed marriage and an indifference to the changing world around him. There is a scene in Welcome at a grocery store where two illegal immigrants are getting kicked out for no reason. Simon does not say a word and is later criticized by his soon to be ex-wife for “keeping his head down and running home.” Simon may not have helped Bilal had it not been for the wake up call that his ex’s words gave him. As the swimming lessons continue it becomes clear to Simon what Bilal’s intentions are. Swim across the English Channel in order to be reunited with the girl he loves. Although Simon sees the task as impossible and dangerous, the will and dedication that Bilal presents forces Simon to agree to help.
Housing and helping an illegal alien is against the law. Simon was faced with the possibility of being arrested and incarcerated by the French government. His neighbors complained to the authorities when he brought Bilal home, and it seemed that the local officers were always keeping an eye on him. Despite these problems Simon needed Bilal. The two men had more in common then they thought. Bilal needed to learn how to swim in order to cross the English Channel to be with his girlfriend. Simon was a swim instructor who was lonely and needed a companion. The friendship that is created between the two is a subtle hint to form the message that immigrants are real people.
Throughout Bilal and Simon’s journey together there were outbursts of mistrust. Simon at certain points would freak out on Bilal thinking he was taking advantage of him. These misunderstandings only occurred because both men were on edge with the problems they were facing. Without either of the men knowing a bond had formed. Simon considered Bilal the son he never got to have. We see this truth when Simon calls the coast guard to report Bilal missing. He found his shoes and clothing on the beach and assumes that he decided to swim the Channel. During the call Simon gives Bilal the surname of Calmat. He then continues to reply “my son.”
The film works hard to show little bias between the illegal immigrants and the French government. Instead it proves that these immigrants are real people with no country to call home. Simon’s ex-wife is surprised by the change of heart and the amount of dedication that Simon puts into his relationship with Bilal. Simon realizes that Bilal is the most dedicated person he has ever met and he respects the effort he put in to achieve his dream. Despite the age difference and the opposite backgrounds of Simon and Bilal, a companionship was formed that changed them both in a positive way.
Lioret, L. (Director), Rossignon, C. (Producer). (2009). Welcome [Motion picture]. France: Film Movement