Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor in ‘Aisha’: Film Review | Tribeca 2022

Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor in ‘Aisha’: Film Review | Tribeca 2022

A transfixing performance from Letitia Wright as a woman escaping violence and navigating a precarious safe haven anchors Aisha, Irish writer-director Frank Berry’s moving reflection on the plight of asylum seekers butting up against the cold indifference of bureaucracy. Josh O’Connor plays Aisha as a young man who is unsure about himself and has a troubled past. This character study is small and focused, but it has an emotional impact that is in direct proportion to its size.

Berry (Michael Within , He specializes in social-realist dramas, drawing on his experience in documentary and community filmmaking. These roots are evident in the film, which was made from his research into Ireland’s controversial Direct Provision system. This system provides basic needs for individuals who are waiting to hear whether they have been granted international protection. The majority of these for-profit businesses run by private contractors are used to house asylum seekers, while the Department of Justice controls the overall system.


The Bottom Line

Beautifully observed and performed.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
Cast: Letitia Wright, Josh O’Connor, Denis Conway, Stuart Graham, Ruth McCabe, Lorcan Cranitch
Director-screenwriter: Frank Berry

1 hour 34 minutes

If this implies a situation similar to the prison system Aisha supports that view. It illustrates the enormous power that residence managers have over people who are already struggling with multiple adjustment difficulties, with a long waiting process and the constant threat of deportation. The Irish government has pledged to dismantle Direct Provision by the end of 2024, replacing it with a not-for-profit system more mindful of human rights.

The film opens with the exuberant dance class of Africans. However, the film ends when the staff at the community center overrule the booking and throw out the group. They respond to their complaints by asking them to show respect.

Aisha, a Nigerian woman who has been living in Ireland for less than a year, is an assistant at a Dublin hairdressing shop and sends money home to her mother Rosemary Aimyekagbon, hiding in Lagos. After her brother and father were killed, she fled the country and was raped by men who loaned her money to pay for university education. Aisha is able to share these details with her solicitor (Lorcan Kraitch) but at a great cost. She prepares for the interview that will determine her status and eligibility to bring her mother to Ireland.

In the quietness of Wright’s performance and in her sad eyes, we see a stirring sense that Wright is an intelligent young woman who is aware of the difficulties of her situation but holds onto her dignity and determination despite the odds. Her prickly manager, Stuart Graham, labels her insubordinate when she protests her family’s removal and again when he discovers that she has been using the microwave to heat her meals against the regulations. He is further irritated when she purchases her own halal meat to be prepared by the kitchen staff, pointing out that the food provided at the facility is unacceptable.

Conor Healy, a young recovering addict with a criminal record, takes a night-shift job at the residence as security guard. Although staff are told not to speak to asylum seekers, Con makes gestures toward Aisha and sneaks her into the kitchen to use his microwave after hours. They begin to chat on the bus ride to work, awkwardly opening up to one another while Aisha keeps her distance.

When she is abruptly moved to a residence in County Wicklow, a depressing estate of container pods made into rudimentary housing units, Aisha has to quit her job as a salon manager. Her work permit is useless without a car. Con is pushed away by Aisha, possibly believing that their association is what got them into trouble. He is hard to resist and turns up to support her at her asylum interview. In one of O’Connor’s most touching scenes, he confesses to his feelings for her.

Berry is careful to balance the authority figures to avoid making them all unsympathetic. However, Aisha’s seemingly unmoved bureaucratic reaction to her harrowing experience in Nigeria is heartbreaking. Her interviewer points out the absence of medical reports or police reports following the incident. It is made more powerful by Wright’s calm and collected manner through all of this. After a two-year wait, and after a tragedy back home, Wright shows a hint of anger in her statements. She says she came to Ireland for safety and not for help.

The film’s ending is a haunting reminder of the cruel reality that can linger for years. Tom Comerford’s exquisite sense of composition shows Aisha’s quiet strength and resolve. It also highlights her isolation and despair, as evidenced by beautiful shots of her bus as it drives along country roads among rolling green hills.

Aside from one scene in which Aisha reacts with out-of character violence to bad news, the movie is bolstered by its understatement. Daragh O’Toole’s delicate music is sparingly used. Berry doesn’t make the relationship the story’s main focus, but there is hope and warmth in Aisha’s growing closeness to Con. However, the bond between these two broken people can only be described as a romance in the most tentative terms. Their shy smiles when Con asks Con if he can kiss them are touching.

Full credits

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
Production companies: Subotica, Write Direction Films
Cast: Letitia Wright, Josh O’Connor, Denis Conway, Stuart Graham, Ruth McCabe, Lorcan Cranitch, Rosemary Aimyekagbon, Antoinette Doyle, Tara Flynn, Dawn Bradfield
Director-screenwriter: Frank Berry
Producers: Trisan Orpen Lynch, Aoife O’Sullivan, Donna Eperon, Sam Bisbee
Executive producers: Hallee Adelman, Ivy Herman, Jenifer Westphal, Joe Plummer, Lance Acord, Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Wendy Neu, William Byerley, George Rush, Rose Garnett, Celine Haddad, Alison Thompson, Mark Gooder
Director of photography: Tom Comerford
Production designer: Tamara Conboy
Costume designer: Kathy Strachan
Music: Daragh O’Toole
Editor: Colin Campbell
Casting: Elaine Grainger
Cornerstone Film

1 hour 34 minutes

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