It has been estimated that, in 2008, there were 16 million refugees in the world, 80% of whom were from developing countries. For the majority of these people, eden probably is west.
For Elias, the protagonist of Costa-Gavras’s latest feature Eden is West, that is certainly the case. It is the destination he strives to reach at any cost. Elias (Ricardo Scamarcio), whose name is either mispronounced or who is sarcastically referred to as ‘Alias’, is a refugee from an unknown country.
One of a boat full of people in the Aegean who rid themselves of their identities, effectively becoming non-people, Elias’s name may as well be Alias – he ‘dies’ and is ‘re-born’ over and over again.
Costa-Gavras believes that “to immigrate is to die and be reborn in another place,” and this is what he has Elias do.
Every time he encounters new people on his journey to Paris, the object of his dream of a better life, he starts over: new identity, new context.
In a way, Elias is almost character-less, as if he has no personality apart from the one the people he encounters along the way project onto him.
Some of these people display compassion towards him, (though only to the degree they feel comfortable), while others take advantage of his desperation.
While the audience may judge these characters for not doing more, there is also a certain degree of discomfort on our part.
How would we respond? Would we go out of our way to help Elias or would we do the bare minimum? Would we, too, judge him for jumping the supposed queue? For doing immoral, illegal things (albeit things that do not harm anyone) in order to survive?
While the circumstances surrounding Elias’s journey are grim, there is quirkiness in some scenes. This is borne out of Elias’s being a foreigner in his ever-changing surroundings – the ‘innocent abroad.’
There is also humour in some of the characters he meets – the well-off couple from Greece for whom Elias is yet another excuse to bicker; the eccentric German truck driver and his friend who seem menacing at first, but who turn out to be two of the kindest people he encounters.
Elias is like Candide, believing that everything that happens to him is for the best, because it is happening during his quest to reach Paris, The City Of Lights, that is depicted as an almost magical kind of place and the city that Costa-Gavras’s parents emigrated to many years ago.
This is an episodic film, a journey, not of an individual, but of all those people who, as the director comments “have to leave in order to survive.”
It is like a number of Costa-Gavras’s films in that it concentrates on a human rights/social justice issue, not so much on characters, plot or aesthetic (though the opening sequence is quite filmic).
And as someone who identifies as a “cultural and economic immigrant,” Gavras has inside knowledge of this experience.