MIGRANTS: In 2001, Fahed reached the UK filled with dreams. By 2018 he is on the brink of a mid-life crisis.
Lauren Wissot
Lauren Wissot is a US film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer, and a contributing editor at both
Published date: October 23, 2019

#Karim Sayad’s# My English Cousin is a much-needed counterbalance to the slew of refugee-themed docs of recent years. Refreshingly surprising in directorial choices – starting with the opening shot of an industrial pier set to the sound of The Specials’s classic ska lament for the UK’s once-vibrant manufacturing sector, Ghost Town – Sayad’s film takes as its subject not the plight of today’s asylum seeker trying to find his way in a foreign new world, but the struggle of a middle-aged immigrant grappling mentally to make his way back home.

A crisis (of sorts)

The director’s «English cousin» (by way of Algeria) is going through a midlife crisis of sorts. Fahed had arrived in the UK 17 years prior, illegally and initially reduced to sleeping on the streets. In the intervening years, he worked his way up the blue-collar ladder to a small flat and a steady job, chopping cabbage and creating kabobs at Pizzo Centro. Now, however, he’s at a crossroads, suffering from what red words on a black screen succinctly sum up as «The Shit Life Syndrome».

Indeed. Fahed’s life seems to run on an exhausting, and increasingly tedious, Groundhog Day-style loop. Sayad captures his cousin at home alone, listlessly eating dinner on a couch. He catches up on the phone with a relative back in Algeria, sleeps for a few hours, and then awakes at half-past five for work. Rinse and repeat. (That said, living in the unfortunately appropriately named town of Grimsby, with his prospects apparently as dim as that of this near-dead locale, what more can one expect?) Only once do we catch a glimpse of the longtime girlfriend of this paunchy man whose «dream» has turned into a relentless struggle, a hardworking guy who’s done everything «right» to earn his place in his adopted country – and now wants nothing more than to reverse migrate. The distant blond Brit is literally seated nearly out of frame in another room. No wonder they split before the end of the film’s first «chapter».

«Working Class Heroes»

In part two, we encounter a newly single Fahed, still slicing for skewers at Pizza Centro but going home to the flat he shares …

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