When you sit down to watch a film like ‘Mediterráneo‘, about the drama of immigration, you expect to see people, desperate to get ashore. People risking their necks at sea in the hope of a better life. The film offers us that side of the story: the thousands of people who everyday dive headlong into the sea, an inflatable raft and a fake life-vest, hoping to make landfall again; a better land. We see triumph and failure: people reaching the shores exhausted, oblivious to the life that awaits them in a refugee camp, and others sinking in our sea, the Mediterranean, off the Greek island of Lesbos, not so far from here. We see the images we’ve seen so often on the news, and as such, perhaps the least surprising aspect of the film. What is striking is the one individual’s commitment to save lives, in this case, that of Òscar Camps, founder of the Badalona-born NGO, Open Arms. To get the largest number of people ashore, whatever the price.

Marcel Barrena’s ‘Mediterráneo’ is a film about the passivity of nations in the face of the loss of human life, and that of the entire European Union in general. A critique of politicians, who refuse to lift a finger to prevent hundreds of bodies from drowning at sea practically every day, like that of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian boy, whose picture as he lay dead on a beach in 2015 became a symbol of this most abject of dramas. But above all, this is a biography. A portrait of Camps: a lifeguard who quit his job to be of service where service didn’t exist. Actor Eduard Fernández introduces to a stubborn individual, a man who has got it into his head that it’s unacceptable to stand by as people dreaming of a better life are dying en route day after day. And so, he packed in everything, abandoning it all to head out to sea with what he can put together, determined to defend the heartbeat of those in that semi-deflated raft. He’s accompanied on this adventure by Gerard, played by comedian Dani Rovira, one of his employees at the coastguard rescue company, who’s more than familiar with Camps and knows full well that when he sets his mind to something, there’s no turning back. The two form an extraordinary tandem, the kind that, once you’ve actually met them, you know is for eternity. 

Camps’ daughter, played by Anna Castillo, is yet another essential element when it comes to understanding the man behind Open Arms. Long neglected by her father, slave to demons from the past and alcohol, and despite it all, she still wants to follow in his footsteps and become a lifeguard, who together with Gerard become the mainstays of Camps, a lonely man who must overcome endless obstacles in his goal to save lives: corrupt police and politicians who turn a blind eye. Here everyone washes their hands of the situation, but Camps is resolute. All he needs to accomplish his mission is a boat and a couple of jet skis, accompanied on his adventure by a photographer who soon becomes the eyes that capture everything that happens at sea. The beauty of this quartet is the characters actually exist in real life, and they were the first to support Camps in his struggle. Each an essential figure in their own right, each with their own role to play in this story, special mention to the photographer for his portrayal of a world of injustice that beggars belief.

Eduard Fernández and Dani Rovira. ‘Mediterráneo’.

The immigrants risking their lives to survive on the open sea – in a lifeboat that doesn’t even do justice to its name -, fleeing war and poverty; this part of the story already familiar to everyone, holds up a mirror to us, a mirror that challenges us directly and asks: wouldn’t you save these people?  Some anonymous people are doing it because nobody else is. They are risking their lives, their jobs, their money, leaving their families behind, to go and save others on the other side of the Mediterranean. To date, Camps, awarded the Catalonian Parliament Medal of Honor in 2019, together with his crew of volunteers, has already saved over 60,000 lives; 60,000 souls who wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for their stubbornness and determination. And you? What are you doing meanwhile? Are you looking the other way or are you taking sides? We already know the response from the European Union. Now, we need to respond.

Bárbara Padilla
Bárbara Padilla. Collaborator in the Series section of La Vanguardia. News editor and presenter on RAC1. Barcelona-based journalist since 2007. An amateur movie buff since she was old enough to know right from wrong and of series since the Netflix boom.