The Wait

Emil Langballe.

Denmark 2016, 58min.

Rokhsar is aged fourteen when we meet her; along with her family she is awaiting the decision on their application for asylum in Denmark, having fled Afghanistan in 2010. As the youngest, she immediately joined a school and learned Danish. Now, she is the family spokesperson who contacts the Danish Immigration Service and the Danish Refugee Council, speaks to attorney Aage Kramp, and interprets for her parents. The institutions are not allowed to disclose information about their case to Rokhsar, so there is a continuous struggle to find out how their case is progressing.

Following a negative answer, Kramp sees an alternative option: a UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – section 9 litra C application relying the extraordinary circumstances of Rokhsar’s quick and full integration into Danish society. Apart from the pressure of having to liaise with the authorities, the family’s future and fate is now dependent on her case as well. Following the news from Afghanistan, Rokhsar watches YouTube images of Farkhunda Malikzada as an example of what is in store for her when asylum is denied again. Malikzada was beaten to death by a mob after being wrongfully accused of burning the Quran. It is very hard to bear for an adolescent, and at some point it becomes too much for Rokhsar, who collapses under the weight of responsibilities, family demands and uncertainties about her future. The Wait calls for attention, with good reason, on the inhumanity of having to live a life in in limbo for years. This is illustrated not only by the endless calls to refugee organisations, but also by Rokhsar’s interactions with her friends. While they plan for next month’s activities, Rokhsar is not even sure she will be in Denmark the following day. She continually seeks comfort from her friends. As the film concludes, she is sixteen and still waiting.

The film is very humane, and fully sides with Rokhsar and her family, keeping the authorities at bay and mostly out of sight and earshot. However, for all its good intentions, there is something unsettling about it. Rokhsar is immediately positioned as sympathetic: she is a well-integrated, pretty and modern young lady who speaks the language fluently, has many friends, plays football and is awarded player of the year by her local club. What is not to like about her? The focus remains on her; we get to know very little about the rest of the family, most notably her siblings. It is Rokhsar we follow, and who is the narrator and discloses the family’s past. We learn that the older brother was killed in Afghanistan, which was their reason to flee. We gradually learn something about the family escape from Afghanistan, their two year separation and their reunion a few years ago. But, the camera rests almost constantly on Rokhsar, either in interaction with others or alone. This might work if the idea is to let the audience experience her perspective, her lack of information and her dreadful wait for a decision. However, archival material from Afghanistan also feature in the film, without any context; images of the communist period, and of travels through snowy mountains. There are also shots of roads and landscapes through what seems like a hole. These seem to be an efforts to visualise the political circumstances of the time and the flight itself, and a visualisation of Rokhsar’s own thoughts. But, somehow it does not work.

Rokhsar does not seem extroverted, as a result it is hard to understand what she is thinking. Although she explains that she does not sleep very well and often finds herself awake, her fainting and suicidal tendencies are a complete surprise. What is happening here? It seems the filmmakers, in their eagerness to propagate a more humane asylum policy, took this model underage asylum seeker and constructed a story around her that will only allow one single interpretation: she deserves permission to stay. True as that may be, the film raises several questions: what are the other family members doing to help their cause? We sort of meet older sister Moska and brother Mokhtar, but they and their other unknown siblings remain quite absent. Who are they and what is their situation? Why is Rokhsar the only one integrated? Where are Rokhsar’s friends and their parents? Older sister Moska is learning Danish, as is Rokhsar’s mother, and Rokhsar helps them. But, why is it all down to her?

Increasingly, the film made me feel uneasy. It is sentimental; the music continuously guides happy or sad emotions, and it feels rather dishonest. At the end of the film, we learn that Rokhsar is on indefinite sick leave from school and stopped playing football. Is this is because of the wait or because the burden of the whole family is on her shoulders? There is also something else. The images available on the film’s website are not film stills but instead Rokhsar in what seems like a fashion shoot. I cannot help but feel that this young girl is being exploited as a model refugee – by her parents, out of necessity, but also by the filmmakers, albeit for a good cause.

Modern Times Review