‘Should you follow the rules of society, or should you have the courage to live by a higher ideal?’
The Deportation of a Model Citizen is a short-length film inspired by true events. It follows the story of Aida, an ambitious and hard-working student of Syrian descent who lives in Denmark with her foster family. However, things are about to change abruptly when two police officers, Lasse and Marcel, arrive at her mom's house to take Aida to the airport in order to deport her to Syria. As they embark on what is anticipated to be a brief trip, Aida and the police officers learn to navigate the emotional turmoil while preparing for the inescapable aftermath.
The director of The Deportation of a Model Citizen, Jacob Thomas Pilgaard, who shares their writing credits, presents us with yet another film that excels in all aspects of storytelling, and it’s a perfect case study of the filmmaking craft. From the opening sequence, we acknowledge that we approach a film grounded in realism but done so subtly and intuitively that it requires us to revisit it at least a couple more times after the initial experience and, each time learn something new.
Aida knows that she can’t fight the system anymore. Sadly, she doesn’t have the strength, as the young woman thinks she's been a burden to the people who love her, including her foster mother and the school's principal, Poul. However, she doesn’t miss the opportunity to bid her farewell, and after moments of hesitation, the officers allow Aida to visit her best friend and the principal one last time.
It’s interesting to see how Pilgaard lets the dramatic situation unravel naturally. They don’t force the plot to go from point A to point B. Contrary to that, the drive is non-linear – the protagonists make a few stops in between, culminating with the scene at the seaside, where Aida receives the news that she’s finally granted another chance at freedom. And interestingly enough, this impacts Lasse, who experienced an emotional rollercoaster that changed him from the cold, inaccessible executioner to a humble human being who is not afraid to demonstrate his feelings and thoughts in the most vulnerable way.
The director knows how to get the best out of the casting ensemble involved in the film, but it’s also worth noting that the other auteurs on the project are aware of the weight of these talents, which they help strive on the screen with the various tools and choices implemented in editing, cinematography sound design, etc.
Thalita Beltrâo Sørensen (Aida) and Joey Moe (Lasse) deliver superb performances. Kristian Arbs, the Director of Photography, depicts the progress of their relationship perfectly; oftentimes, we notice how Moe observes Sørensen from the background, and that’s done so subtly that we, as an audience, are aware of his intimidating presence all the time, even when the young woman has her back turned. On the other side, the camera tends to draw an intimate portrait of Lasse when alone or sharing a scene with his partner, Marcel, thus foreshadowing the change he’ll go through later.
Moreover, as mentioned, Pilgaard decides to let the silence speak louder than words. In addition, any other editors would trim down a scene after the external obstacle/issue is addressed, but not Steen Bech in The Deportation of a Model Citizen. Here, the angle is on the characters’ internal struggles, and the story allows taking its time to process the myriad of emotions we go through with Aida, Lasse and the rest. Consequently, every scene works as an independent sequence and should be analyzed as such in the grander narrative framework. The cast isn't afraid to delve into their fears and wounds to make the most out of the invidious position their characters are stuck in, regardless of whether the fight is more visible (like in the heroine's case) or is yet to invade the fortress built around to not let anything in, like in the policeman's arc. Suffice it to say the sound design signed by Rune Klausen and the score by Anne Rømer strikingly support the film's visual identity.
In the end, besides meeting the most genuine and unforgettable characters that grow under our skin in an otherwise intense and emotionally-driven plot, what we take home from the film is the theme. The underlying theme stays with us for a very long time, provoking us to think about the subject of refuge and migration (and the factors that cause them) and what happens to millions of people around the world who share similar destinies to Aida's.
Aida lets us get a glimpse of her dreams and future in a country that would allow her to fulfil her potential, but at the same time, it’s yet to give her a chance at freedom. Fortunately, Aida and Lasse’s trip receives a happy epilogue, and although it’s ephemeral compared to the sadness, grief, melancholy and guilt that the film focuses on primarily, we are at ease with the afterthought of The Deportation of a Model Citizen, knowing that the young woman is safe, and the police officer has redeemed himself most incredibly. In conclusion, The Deportation of a Model Citizen is a stunning film that won’t leave anyone indifferent.
Written by Dimitar Dimoski