Iraqi-born Danish filmmaker Ala’a Mohsen’s A New Beginning is raw and gentle, lyrical and pedestrian. The story of the challenges faced by Syrian refugee Rabeaa, as he and his young son Qais attempt to assimilate into life in Norway after fleeing war at home, flows placidly along with the seasons that slowly mark the steps of their new life.
Rabeaa walks with the aid of a walking stick, his left leg – we eventually learn – shattered in four different places after a fall during the family’s escape from Aleppo. Little Qais, not yet old enough to go to school, is timid and loving, devoted to, and utterly dependent on, his father.
Self-contained and taciturn, Rabeaa gently shepherds his son through the gradual stages of entering a new life – bringing him to a kindergarten where his son must begin to learn Norwegian, and negotiating a move from cramped quarters to a pleasant little flat before he himself must go for reconstructive surgery for the chance to walk unaided again.
The long, grey Nordic winter gives way to spring and summer where the colours remain as subdued as the mood of the film. There are no dramatic twists or turns, instead, Mohsen allows the narrative to emerge discretely as viewers gradually put the pieces of the jigsaw together: an immigration minister, talking to new arrivals stresses that fairness must be applied equally – whether those fleeing war are granted refugee status and allowed to stay, or sent home. It is hard to say whether Rabeaa and Qais have settled status at this point – we know they were in an asylum centre when they first arrived thanks to an on-screen caption. But there are no immigration officials, other than the minister, to be seen and no sense of the bureaucracy or difficulties they have faced.
Instead, the director simply allows a passive, almost disinterested, camera to record: Rabeaa finds cleaning jobs (in an office building and, …
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