Stranger In Paradise (2016, Guido Hendrikx)

We thought we’d already seen intense, slippery, ethically complex movies at True/False, and then this one came along, a hybrid documentary in which an actor (Valentijn Dhaenens, playing “Europe”) interacts with classrooms of refugees hoping to be accepted into a European country, taking different approaches. After an immigration-philosophy intro, in Act 1 Dhaenens is harsh and accusatory, says new immigrants will cost his country money and they’ll import religious beliefs which run counter to state law. V. Rizov: “There’s a bracing, hateful clarity in someone who’s willing to say exactly what they mean, even/especially if it’s vile.”

In Act 2 he’s generous and understanding, says Europe owes them all charity due to its colonialist past. Europe has resources to go around, and he points to a study saying that erasing state borders entirely could bring all states greater wealth. In Act 3 he follows the rules, eliminating anyone not eligible for residency in the Netherlands, then he interviews the rest to see whose stories hold up, until just three remain.


After mastering montage and close-quarters conflict, Stranger closes strong in a new mode with a super-long (both distance/time) shot epilogue; now “out of character” on the street, Dhaenens meets a group of migrants who ask for cigarettes. Given what we’ve been watching for an hour, the suspicion that they might take violent, understandable revenge on the outnumbered teacher (thereby setting up any number of racist headlines about migrants running wild) lurks, but instead everyone has a nice chat. By the time Dhaenens points back to the director behind the camera it’s increasingly clear that this tableaux as staged as anything in the film (for this sequence, the migrants wrote their own dialogue). Here’s another film that summarizes with great clarity a particularly sordid/inhumane strain of contemporary thought it’s attempting to combat, while at the same time pointing out how unhelpful the film itself is in effectuating change.

Katy says the movie, particularly the epilogue conversation, seemed ethically unsound until the director’s Q&A assured us that the refugees were paid participants, aware of the film’s structure and intentions, and the final scene was even scripted (though based on a real conversation).

I’d been looking forward to Sarah Kendzior’s intro, which she read stiffly from a book of notes and didn’t hold half the interest as Jeong’s Star Wars net neutrality essay. Kendzior is still a catastrophist, but at least she humorously acknowledged that her worst predictions about our country haven’t (yet!) come to pass.