With immigration as a hot-button issue recently, Dutch director Guido Hendrikx has a more cynical, albeit realistic view of the Western perspective. In his three-act documentary debut, Stranger in Paradise, Hendrikx places a blonde, well-spoken man in front of a classroom of migrants in Lampedusa, an island in the Mediterranean sea. The students' English comprehension varies, but the man gets one point across bluntly: “You are not welcome. We do not want you here.”
The teacher is there to tell them the truth, unfortunately well-reasoned and sprinkled with caustic pity. One migrant costs 26,000 euros, with 1.3 million euros coming to Europe annually to seek asylum. Only 45 percent of them will ever work in Europe. "Why should the migrants not stay in their respective countries to build a better future?" he asks, like his own Dutch father during World War II.
Hendrikx uses close-up shots and charged dialogue to paint the view that the numbers present — the European welfare system is not set up to support any optimistic attitudes kind people can verbally condone. It’s heartbreaking to watch the migrants promise they’ll work hard and be valuable while statistics have no mercy.
In Part II, he tosses his classes a bone: They do have reason to be here and dream, and perhaps Europe can be a little more brave and ask for more. Now, the film offers relief from a very charged first act, but you also realize the man is just an actor — Valentin Dhaenens was placed in front of the class to prescribe an exercise they were aware would take place.
So will Stranger in Paradise actually help the cause of granting asylum to European citizens? You sure hope so by the end. Hendrikx knows his audience would support immigration for all of the inspiring and heroic stories typically depicted, but not everyone is equally willing to funnel their own money into supporting the cause. The real culprit here seems to be hypocrisy, as Dhaenens says. “I blame the liberals for giving you false hope.”
It’s hard to say whether Hendrikx’s blurring of realistic fiction furthers conversation or only seeks to express the way things are. Regardless of his intent, the film appears to only do the latter, criticizing unsophisticated ideas of what immigration should be. But like real life, it offers no solution.