(MY SMALL LAND, though not in French, is a France/Japan co-production.) It is filmed in 3 languages in Kurdish and in the language where the family is from and where the family is currently residing.
MY SMALL LAND (France/Japan 2022) ***1/2
Directed by Emma Kawawada
MY SMALL LAND follows 17-year old Sarya (Lina Arashi), a 17-year old living with her Kurdish family in Japan. The family is seeking refugee status in Japan.
One of the first things noted in the film is the ignorance in Japan, of where Kurds come from. This is not really surprising as many in North America are also unaware as well as where Kurds come from. One might know of what is known as Kurdistan, but Kurdistan or "land of the Kurds”) or Greater Kurdistan is a roughly defined geo-cultural territory in Western Asia wherein the Kurds form a prominent majority population and the Kurdish culture, languages, and national identity have historically been based. Sarya’s father is quick to explain in one of the film's key scenes where Kurds come from - Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. More accurately, Kurdistan generally comprises the following four regions: southeastern Turkey (Northern Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Southern Kurdistan), northwestern Iran (Eastern Kurdistan), and northern Syria (Western Kurdistan).
When the film opens, the audience sees Sarya (17), a Kurdish refugee girl in Japan. She is speaking with her teacher in school who compliments her. Her life seems to be looking up; her grades at school are good enough to pursue college, she's surrounded with good friends and her relationship with Sota (Okudaira Daiken), a Japanese boy working at the same grocery store as her, is becoming special. It is revealed at a family scene that her father is unaware that Sarya is working. Sarya’s life turns upside down, however, when her family's refugee status is turned down, restricting her family from work and traveling across the city. Her father is furious as he has scars on his knee to prove it. ‘They burnt my house down’, he cries out at the immigration officer who just goes through the motions of his work. Her father, who had continued to work to sustain a living, is later taken into custody for illegal employment. Sarya is now suddenly forced into a situation where she is responsible not only for her younger siblings but for her very existence. This is at the midway point of the film.
Director Kawawada’s film (which is based on her novel and her experiences) is sincere and well-intentioned and sometimes feels too much so that the material appears manipulative. Young actress Lina Arashi, however, a Middle-eastern model is totally winning and charming as the innocent Sarya who has adult issues to contend with. She makes the movie.
MY SMALL LAND is the first film to be released by the newly founded distribution company, Momo Films (https://momofilms.com) in Canada. Momo Films focuses solely on Japanese films, hopefully to release 2 - 4 films yearly. It is one of the aims of this website to promote starting independent film distributors like Momo Films. MY SMALL LAND is a worthy first release and its theme is similar to the struggles of the underdog and under-represented. MY SMALL LAND was produced by Kore-eda Hirokazu's (Director of AFTER LIFE, SHOPLIFTERS and this year’s BROKER) production company, BUN-BUKU. MY SMALL LAND won a Special Mention of Amnesty International Film Award at the Berlin International Film Festival this February.
MY SMALL LAND screens in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on November the 9th and the 16th.