Streaming Review

Aisha review – Letitia Wright shines in a sad and moving study of a refugee

Frank Berry's very well-acted film is a work of fury and empathy, raging against the clinical cruelty of anti-migrant bureaucracy

Irish writer-director Frank Berry tackles his nation’s clinically cruel treatment of refugees with his latest social-realist drama, Aisha, a sad and heartfelt look at the dehumanisation inherent in turning human strife into a purely bureaucratic concern. At its core is a great turn from Letitia Wright as the title character, who has fled to Ireland from Nigeria to escape the gangsters that killed her dad and brother.

Aisha’s tragic story is not enough for the state to really treat her like a person though, whether that’s the robotic language of the agents assigned to her asylum appeal or the petty power trips of the feckless men who run the detention centre/halfway house that Aisha currently resides in. It’s quietly handled but powerfully infuriating stuff, laying bare the mix of cynicism, self-aggrandising, and cruelty for cruelty’s sake that so often defines European approaches to migrant issues.

One bright spot emerges in Aisha’s life in the form of Conor (Josh O’Connor), the night-shift security guard at the centre who’s happy to bend the rules to allow Aisha to cook her own halal food and simply treats her like a fellow human being. A very tentative romance starts to form, one that is exceptionally well played by both Wright and O’Connor as they each start to open up to one another. Conor has his own sad past and so, while he can’t relate to Aisha’s specific plight, he does have a deep understanding of her fear and trauma and the pair’s unfussily wrenching conversations about their pasts are very moving.

Western Europe’s approach to the migrant crisis has been one of its most sickening moral failures of this millennium, but to capture the full scope of it may well be too much for any drama. In taking his focus to the minutiae of one woman going through the gruelling process, Berry hits home his damning indictment of the Irish state without needing to stand on a soapbox in a clear-eyed and full-hearted work of deep empathy.

Aisha is released on Sky Cinema from 17 November.

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