‘The Burghers of Calais’

Claudio Zonta SJ

 Claudio Zonta SJ / Human Rights / Published Date:11 June 2021/Last Updated Date:18 June 2021

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Los burgueses de Calais, la última frontera, by Spanish director Jesús Armesto – winner of the SAMIFO prize at the 11th Mental Health Film Festival “Lo Spiraglio” – is an intense and poetic documentary about the condition of migrants stuck in transit at the mouth of the Eurotunnel. These people are confined, as if in limbo, in the so-called “jungle,” near Calais, in Northern France.

The title refers to the sculpture by the famous artist Auguste Rodin, in homage to the six burghers of Calais who, in 1347, during the 100 Years War, offered themselves as hostages to the English king after a dramatic siege. But Rodin, like Armesto, does not just dwell on the historical event, but rather explores the feelings, the anguish of the characters, manifested above all by the nervous hands and the contracted faces that express the strong tension.

It is a cinematographic work that resembles a seesaw: faces and landscapes alternate. The stillness of the silent landscapes is interrupted by close ups of bleak faces of the different people (the photographer, the lawyer, the psychoanalyst), who denounce the circumstances of those who enter the migration vortex. It is their faces that denounce: faces in the foreground, reflecting their opposition to the violence that dehumanizes the men, women and children who leave their country to find a better life elsewhere.

La Civilta Cattolica

In the final part, the director frames the faces of some of the migrants, but with delicacy, with consideration, knowing that it is too easy to fall into exploiting them. He emphasizes what unites all human beings: the face, understood as a focus of resistance that speaks and demands; and demands because its focus is the immigrant who leaves everything, has nothing and needs everything.

If the mass media portray migratory movements in such a way as to make the immigrant as distant and hostile as possible, Jesús Armesto, instead, does so as a Moses who takes off his sandals so as not to step on the holy ground surrounding the burning bush. A female voice recites a poetic text that revolves around the image of the burning bush: “The bush burns, but it is not consumed. The refugee camps are destroyed, but people reappear, a continuous flow of life. Life returns, because life is irrepressible. It burns, but it is not consumed. Final resolution of the film: people return. New refugees arrive in Calais after the last dismantling of the shelters. The bush burns, but it is not consumed.”


DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 6, no. 6 art. 14, 0621: 10.32009/22072446.0621.14