A provocative, hypnotic film that draws you into a frightening world of uncertainty and hopelessness.
Those Who Feel The Fire Burning
Directed and written by newcomer Morgan Knibbe, Those Who Feel the Fire Burning is an unusual and powerful documentary about the lives of immigrants stuck in Europe.
Those Who Feel the Fire Burning opens strongly with a man drowning at sea, having fallen from a boat taking him into a port. This drowning is shown from his perspective, with the darkness slowly filling the screen as he sinks down into the ocean. The ghost of this man then serves as our narrator and guide through the streets of Europe’s coastal towns and ports.
Whilst the narrator wonders philosophically about paradise and the failed hopes and dreams of himself and the others who managed to make it to Europe, the camera glides over and through towns and cities on Europe’s coast, focusing on several immigrants struggling to stay alive. We follow one man filling a pram with iron desperate for money. We also follow a Senegalese man living in an old disused house in dreadful condition, telling his wife on the phone about all the shoes and lipstick he can afford to buy and bring home to her. In particularly distressing scenes we also encounter a woman using an old phone charger tied around her arm to help her inject heroin, along with several immigrants mourning the loss of family members and friends who died at sea trying to get into the port.
Knibbe’s voyeuristic approach compounds the sense of unease, grief and isolation of the immigrants. The camera can get uncomfortably close to its subjects, so we can see the pain in their eyes whilst a relentless haunting soundtrack plays in the background. Knibbe conveys Europe as an unwelcoming world for immigrants as the camera lingers over dark streets filled with tension and police. The world these immigrants have entered is alien, isolating and disorienting. Those Who Feel the Fire Burning is not an easy watch. There is no sense of detachment and distance that would have come from a film with facts and statistics. Knibbe does not give the film any political context. This is not a film inclined to provoke a detailed discussion of the complex geo-political circumstances behind immigration. Instead, Knibbe gives a visceral and emotional portrayal of life as an immigrant. He conveys immigrants as trapped in a nightmarish purgatory, unable to move further on through Europe for a more prosperous life, yet also unable to return home to their families. When the narrator ponders his life as a ghost, of “existing and not existing,” the comparison with immigrants feeling a lack of identity is obvious, and serves to emphasize this point further.
Yet Knibbe is not always subtle, and Those Who Feel the Fire Burning does possess a fault—the film’s narration, which can occasionally be a little simplistic. In one scene the narrator asks “Are you an angel?” as the camera looks upon a little girl, obviously hammering home the heaven and purgatory theme. Knibbe has created such a powerful atmosphere with the cinematography and score alone that Those Who Feel the Fire Burning arguably does not need the voice-over and ghost character in order to elicit an emotional response. This scene feels manufactured, and is clumsy given the rest of the film’s subtlety. Thankfully, these missteps from Knibbe are infrequent. Those Who Feel the Fire Burning is a provocative, hypnotic film that draws you into a frightening world of uncertainty and hopelessness. It is a unique, intelligent film from Knibbe that deserves all the praise it can get.
Originally published on April 24, 2015, as part of our Hot Docs 2015 coverage.