Eden is West memorably captures the magical nature of the world one young man encounters where every experience is full of both promise and threat.

Just like in 'The Odyssey", it is in the Aegean Sea that the adventures of Elias (Riccardo Scamacio) begin. A rusting trawler packed with clandestine men, women and children slowly approaches the bright lights of an emerging shore, and we may not know where they all began but we know where they hope they’re going: the West, an actual as well as mythical place. For Elias this will literally be Eden Club Paradise, the name of the resort at which he wakes up, and his extraordinary journey from there to reach Paris takes him across a microcosm of contemporary Europe. Gavras has crafted an epic story for our times, one full of heart, humour and wondrous complexities.

A wry account of the refugee experience.

The faces are fearful and the scenery is beautiful. Eden is West begins on the open sea, with a boat load of illegal immigrants from an (un-named) country. Amongst them is Elias (Riccardo Scamarcio), a 20-something with gentle eyes. His is a remarkable face – at once young with hope and aged in the realisation that people are more often cruel than not. Soon after this tender and beguiling film begins, the 'aliens' are ordered by their keepers to get rid of their identities. One by one the – mostly men – toss their passports into the sea. In the first of this film's many stunning images of loss and betrayal, director Costa-Gavras offers a view of an ocean filled with debris made of torn and twisted passports.

Leaving the past and looking forward, and being who ever you need to be to get ahead, to survive, to live is what Eden is West is all about. It’s a weighty mouthful of a theme and in short summary its sounds earnest and dare I say it, dull, but the screenplay by Costa-Gavras, and Jean-Claude Grumberg is full of wit and playfulness. This fable-like quality seeps into the action early.

Elias and his cohorts find themselves off the Mediterranean holiday coast when authorities turn up with machine guns to arrest them. Jumping overboard, Elias swims ashore. The next morning he awakes to an image at once beautiful and somehow too much, too soon– a naked woman emerging from the sea with a beach ball. She wants Elias to join her friends in their game. It turns out that Elias has landed, not in some heavenly bacchanalia, but a nudist beach attracted to a hugely expensive resort complex called Eden.

Trapped amongst the tourists looking for a good time, Elias' life and death situation develops like some deadpan Euro version of a Jerry Lewis 60s comedy, with the hero stumbling into one situation of mistaken identity and mismanaged ruse after another. Some of these vignettes are sweet, like Elias’ fling with a beautiful German woman Christina (Juliane Koehler) but more often than not they are humiliating; it seems that whatever Elias does he has to pay for it with his sex, his dignity or his sweat. Soon he hits the road, aiming for Paris.

Famous for a style that’s been called 'documentary' in pictures like Z and Missing, Costa-Gavras applies his de-glamourised approach to Eden is West and it works, mostly because it's such a strong counterpoint to the film's more outrageous events. The lighting has the soft ambience of a long summer dusk where the sun has slipped over the horizon and the camerawork has the urgency and immediacy of a news report.

Still, Costa-Gavras finds little beats in the story to make some wry gags at the expense of an exploitative media that shoots where the action is but never tries to humanise the story of 'illegals' in the EU. But perhaps the saddest irony of all is that no one here seems interested in where Elias comes from"¦ he seems a nuisance, a play thing, a threat to freedom or just another lost soul living on the street. Surprisingly, the films comes off as hopeful, rather than despairing, and compassionate, rather than bitter. Perhaps that’s because Elias never stops and never gives up. He’s a survivor.


1 hour 50 min
In Cinemas 01 January 1970,
Wed, 03/10/2010 - 11