The actress Endurance Newton plays Hope, the female lead in the film of the same name directed by Boris Lojkine. Perhaps her real first name would have been a more accurate title for this movie about poor African emigrants trying desperately to reach the promised land of Europe: while hope may spur them on, they need almost superhuman endurance to survive this voyage through a hell where rape, extortion, theft and casual violence are the norm.
This powerful film begins with a group of Africans waiting for the guide who will take them across the Sahara. Most of them are men from Cameroon, but one small person, dressed as a boy, is soon found out to be a young Nigerian woman named Hope. The sexual harassment starts immediately, and when the guide dumps the group in the desert and tells them they must walk all night to reach Morocco, they leave her behind. One of the Cameroonians has a conscience, however, and hangs back to help her.
From then on the fates of Hope and Léonard (Justin Wang) are tied together as they struggle mightily to reach their goal against enormous odds. He reluctantly accepts her pleas to become her protector, but both have to
compromise constantly to survive the obstacles before them. As they move from place to place, the Africans stay in camps, called “ghettos,” that are segregated by nationality. Each one is ruled over by a gang led by a “chairman,” who uses violence and extortion to control and profit from the desperate people under his “protection.” Hope and Léonard, who seem to be at heart decent people, end up resorting to prostitution, theft and violence themselves as they attempt to make up for their losses and continue on their way. It is impossible to judge them, however, as you wonder what you would do in such circumstances.
You might expect solidarity among these Africans in the same plight, but think again. The Cameroonians despise the Nigerians (when someone refers to Hope as Léonard’s girlfriend, he snaps back, “She’s not my girlfriend; she’s Nigerian!”), and even within their own groups, the individuals exploit each other shamelessly.
The film stays relentlessly in the present, following the two characters through their tribulation-filled odyssey, with no backstory for either one of them. Why did they leave home? We don’t know, but we can imagine. We know that Léonard hopes to study when he gets to Europe, but Hope’s dreams remain a mystery.
The only comfort you’ll get from this wrenching film is the comfort that Hope and Léonard finally end up giving each other. Both actors, by the way, are superlative.
French film producers have been taking a strong interest in Africa these days. This is the third Africa-based film in a row that I have reviewed for Paris Update: Loin des Hommes, set in Algeria; Timbuktu, set in Mali and now Hope, whose action moves from Algeria to Morocco. All were excellent and enlightening.