Review: For the Living (2019)

The case of the murder of the illegal immigrant Semira Adami in the custody of the Belgian police that happened more than 20 years ago is uncannily similar to the recent murder of George Floyd that sparkled the protests all over the world. The black woman was suffocated while held on plane awaiting her final deportation (after several unsuccessful attempts, that is) by the dozen of white male police officers. Her destiny is the centrepiece of Pauline Fonsny’s short documentary essay For the Living, shown in (In)Justice and the Struggle to Remain Human section of Focus at recently finished Vienna Shorts.

Fonsny’s film, dedicated to Adami and other immigrant victims of the Belgian police brutality, is a deft and coherent composition of its elements: the two narrations, one coming from a non-fiction stage play by Maia Chauvrier and Adami’s own testimony read by Obiageil Okigbo, the two types of tracking shots portraying the actual immigration and detention facilities and their scaled models, as well as a staged interview revealing the face of the person reading the testimony only later on and the textual cards providing the contextual information about the reforms of the immigration and asylum-seeking rules over the course of 30 years.

The filmmaker also served as her own editor and one of the cinematographers, arranging the textual and the visual material in a very clear fashion, utilizing the pulsating musical score written by the film’s sound designer Alice Perret in order to create a strong cerebral as well as visceral feeling, which For the Living certainly is.

Original title: A l’usage des vivants
Year: 2019
Runtime: 26′ 46”
Country: Belgium
Languages: French, English
Directed by: Pauline Fonsny
Additional material written by: Maia Chauvrier, Semira Adami
Cinematography by: Pierre de Wurstemberger, Lou Vernin, Pauline Fonsny
Editing by: Pauline Fonsny
Music by: Alice Perret
Sound design by: Alice Perret
Models by: Céline de Vos
Produced by: Alice Lemaire
Production companies: Contre-Ciels, Atelier Cinéma