THE REFUGE (Nigel Barker, 2003)

Beautifully photographed by Alexander Metcalfe with rich patches of color in both interior and exterior expanses of darkness, The Refuge (Asylum) was co-written (along with Simon Ricketts) and directed by Nigel Barker (best director, Cinequest); it is a gripping British docudrama that peters out towards the end before reclaiming the power necessary to batter the viewer’s heart. Its current, insanely low score of 3.2 on the Internet Movie Database reflects, rather than the film’s level of quality, Islamophobia. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, and three such young Kurds, in flight from torture in Iraq, claim sanctuary in a London church after the British government denies them asylum although their return to Iraq would mean their almost certain deaths. Bureaucratic paperwork, you know.
     Mahmoud, Rezghar and Saman may be viewed as the combinate protagonist of a film that generates the suicide of one and the homewards return of another upon the news that his wife has been arrested and detained. Somewhat clumsily, however, the actual protagonist is the priest, who provides church sanctuary until the Archbishop orders him to let in the police. “What is the point?” Father Michael cries out to his hide-and-seek-playing God. “What is the point of a church if you cannot help people when they are in trouble?” A postscript reveals that this priest, experiencing a crisis of faith, trades in his collar to become a social worker in Ireland.
     Father Michael has a very familiar face. He is played by Da[v]i[d] Bradley, who starred as the boy Billy Casper in Ken Loach’s Kes (1969).
     Is Nigel Barker, the director, the same London-born Nigel Barker, of British, Sri Lankan, Portuguese and Irish descent, who is a fashion photographer and has been, since 2004, a celebrity judge on television’s America’s Next Top Model?

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