It happens every other day, and in between too. Small boats reach the Spanish coastline while others cross the Mediterranean and end up landing in Italy. NGO Open Arms rescues hundreds of people every year. People who risk everything in search of a better life, seeking salvation for their families, who are starving in their country of origin. From time to time we see the news on TV. Some put our heads in our hands and wonder how this can continue to happen. How, faced with the passivity of Europe and the entire world, hundreds of men, women, pregnant women, and children dive headlong into the sea in search of a better future. Others directly chose to turn a blind eye and look the other way. This is the reality of ‘Adú‘, the Spanish film that has won 13 Goya nominations, including Best Film and Best Director, and which for many will be uncomfortable to watch.
The film premiered last year and has now returned to theaters (also available on Netflix) to tell the story of Adú, a boy who loses his mother and who, together with his sister, begins an adventure to Europe. Their only motivation, like most of their fellow countrymen and women in Cameroon, is to survive. We witness the drama of immigration through the eyes of a child of the tender age of 6 years old. We see it in him, in his sister and in their friend, who acts almost like their guardian angel and who’s there by his side when it appears there is no way out. And it’s inevitable that as members of the audience, we are forced to ask ourselves what we would do. What would we do if we had nothing left and we were nobody? Without resources, with just a backpack and a change of clothes to keep the cold out. And worst of all, what would we do if we were a child, who doesn’t understand why the world treats them like this; why they don’t deserve to have three square meals a day or have a roof over their heads.
We see the bitterest side of immigration thanks to Moustapha Oumarou, the boy protagonist of the film, who interestingly never had any intention of becoming an actor. The ‘Adú‘ team, led by Salvador Calvo, interviewed 6,000 children before discovering Moustapha: the production’s diamond in the rough, that look of purest innocence. Him, with his big eyes, that wipe away our tears, and quashes our outrage at so much injustice. The casting team ran into him playing in the street. He had to learn to become an actor, to memorize his lines, no mean feat for someone who couldn’t even read or write, but in return, he now goes to school and has made enough money to ensure his family are safe. And also, a well-deserved applause for his guardian angel: Adam Nourou, nominated for a Goya for Best New Actor.
But, just as audiences can perfectly understand Adú’s tale, cramming two parallel storylines into the production isn’t as easy to digest. On the one hand, we have a group of Spanish police, Guardia Civil, as they experience the assaults of sub-Saharan Africans on the border fence separating Spain from Africa in Melilla. And on the other, the story of a father and daughter who are destined to be constantly at loggerheads. The father, played by Luis Tosar, is a steadfast defender of elephants. However, we’re never privy to where this desire to save these fabulous beasts from poachers comes from; or why he dedicates his life to this cause and distances himself from his daughter, played by Anna Castillo, a teenager who just wants to have fun. The idea behind the dual storyline is to raise public awareness and denounce the situation: the killing of elephants for their tusks and the bitter situation of immigrants in Melilla, but, as stories, they could be deleted from the production without any real impact on the final product. And herein lies the problem.
Now that the HBO docuseries ‘Vitals‘ is trending, which shows the harsh reality of the pandemic within the walls of a hospital –the Taulí from Sabadell–, ‘Adú‘ fills a similar void: to offer films that are a huge bite of the reality sandwich. Nobody enjoys watching those who are gravely ill in the ICU struggling between life and death because a virus has invaded their lungs, in the same way that nobody likes to see poverty in Africa. But it’s necessary. Both realities exist, and we cannot act as if they didn’t. Doing so makes us miserable and deteriorates us as a society. The fact that we may not personally have the coronavirus or that it affects us less, does not give us the green light to go out boozing in the park with our friends. In the same way that living in Spain shouldn’t desensitize us to what’s taking place in Cameroon. These are human lives, just like ours. And it’s no fault of theirs that they happen to have been born in the wrong place at the wrong time.