A Turkish family dreams of a better life in Switzerland – “the paradise beyond the mountain” – and pay to be illegally brought into the country. Things don’t go according to plan however, and when their family is separated in a blizzard it seems the dream of a better life is over for good.
Originally released in 1990, Journey of Hope won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language feature, and the film has returned to the place of its first premiere – the Locarno Film Festival – in a new restored version.
The main cast of the film – Necmettin Çobanoglu, Nur Sürer and Emin Sivas are strong in their roles as a family seeking a better life, and their quiet intensity is what makes the film work. There is often a language barrier between the characters and those who are supposedly helping them, but their hope and happiness at what is just around the corner shines through in their performances.
Xavier Koller and Feride Çiçekoglu’s screenplay was inspired by a real story of Turkish and Kurdish refugees in the 1980s, and is as relevant today as it was at the time of its original release. Although the dialogue may not be plentiful, the heart at the centre of the film is one of people risking their lives to find something better for themselves and the ones they love. There is tragedy heaped on tragedy in Journey of Hope, as events could have been very different but for one decision made by the characters, and this is evident throughout the film. Despite this, however, the idea of hope permeates the film, and the characters bonding together in an impossible situation is heartwarming and engaging.
As director, Xavier Koller doesn’t seem too concerned with pacing the film at breakneck speed, instead, he focuses on the characters’ journey, with the pacing of the film reflecting the slow and painful journey the characters go on. There are times when this pacing seems drawn out by today’s cinematic standards, but the characters in the film are carefully drawn and infinitely watchable.
In all, Journey of Hope is as heartbreaking and touching today as it was on its release in 1990, and is still as relevant when considering the current refugee crisis in Europe. The performances and direction are strong, and the story is simple but affecting. There are times when the film’s pacing feels rather drawn out, but spending time with these characters is engaging and moving.