In a world characterized by rapid globalization there is also an increasing effort by countries to enforce and protect boundaries. Dutch film The New World, written and directed by Jaap van Heusden and co-written with Rogier de Blok, focusses on the ‘no man’s land’ at a Dutch airport, where asylum seekers are detained whilst their claims are being processed. The film is also a fascinating portrait of an introverted woman who chooses to let the most unexpected person into her own little world, and the personal transformations which follow.
Mirte (Bianca Krijgsman) works as a janitor in this ‘no man’s land’, performing her job with an efficiency and indifference that deflects the despair and hopelessness emanating from the asylum seekers all around her. Her ability to predict the fates of each new asylum seeker with uncanny accuracy is a point of pride, and she runs a secret service in which she provides three strictly-timed minutes on her mobile phone in exchange for jewellery.
Her personal life is a different matter. For undisclosed reasons her husband has passed away, but it is obvious that she is still struggling to recover from such a big loss by desperately trying to reconnect, largely unsuccessfully, with her distant son. However, when she meets Luc (Issaka Sawadogo), a West African asylum seeker, her outlook begins to inexplicably change. Largely unfazed by her terse, brisk manner, Luc is refreshing in his capacity for positivity in such a harrowing, draining environment, and Mirte is slowly drawn to him. She eventually develops an unlikely emotional attachment to him and his fate, and their worlds silently overlap, enabling each to change in subtle but lasting ways.
Krijgsman draws the audience in with an engaging, lived-in performance. In particular, her eyes serve as the portals to her inner world, expressing a spectrum of emotions running from insistent nonchalance to crushing disappointment to barely contained anger. She blends these layers together seamlessly, and her unfolding transformation is all the more compelling and moving because of it. Sawadogo also registers an emotionally moving performance, managing to convincingly evoke the blend of despondency and hope of someone who can’t control their future.
The New World is unapologetic in its candid depiction of the despair and gloom experienced by those seeking asylum. However, it is not unrelentingly bleak in its outlook. Instead the film suggests that in unexpected encounters resides the potential for small glimmers of hope to emerge, if only we remain open to such possibilities.
The New World screened at the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival.