Sunday, 30 October 2016

Welcome to Norway (4 Stars)

Primus is a man with a vision. He owns a run down hotel in the north of Norway. He hasn't been able to attract many visitors, so he has an idea that is sure to succeed: he turns his hotel into a refugee centre. It's easy money. He's paid $12,200 per year by the Norwegian government for every refugee that he houses, and since his hotel is large enough for 50 refugees he'll earn more than $600,000 a year.

What seems so easy soon turns into a nightmare. When the bus arrives with 50 refugees none of them speak Norwegian -- does that surprise anyone? -- and hardly anyone speaks English. Primus' profit margin shrinks when he realises that he can't just put the government grant in his pocket. He needs to provide the refugees with food, Playstations and language courses. On top of that the government grant is initially withheld because the inspectors don't consider the accommodation suitable, so he has to carry out renovations on his own costs. The refugees don't get on with one another because of religious differences. Then he has to witness that his daughter begins a lesbian relationship with a Lebanese Moslem.

Fortunately Primus finds one young refugee, Abedi from the Congo, who is a language genius. He speaks English, French, Norwegian, Arabic and Swahili, so he's able to function as an interpreter. He also becomes Primus' best friend in the centre.

This is a hilarious comedy. I was laughing no much that I was crying, and it seems that the other people in the cinema felt the same. It's a tragic comedy, due to Norway's refugee policy that was tightened this year. In theory Norway has an open door policy, as far as entering the country is concerned, but as soon as a refugee arrives he has to prove that he has sufficient reasons to remain in Norway, even if he comes from a war zone. More than 90% of the refugees in Norway are deported to Russia or Greece. (By an agreement reached with the EU, refugees who arrive via another EU country can be deported to any EU country if refused asylum, but Norway doesn't like to deport refugees to Sweden or Finland because of the danger that they will re-enter Norway illegally at uncontrolled border crossings. Refugees who arrive via Russia are returned to Russia if they still have valid Russian transit visas, but if their visa has expired attempts are made to deport them to other countries).

I've watched a few Norwegian films, but this is the first comedy I've seen, and it makes a good impression. Norwegians are evidently able to make fun of themselves. I like that.

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