Part three of our True/False Makeup Weekend. A counselor works with imprisoned refugees, while outside, millions of small crabs are freely migrating across the island. It’s a metaphor, you see – an irresistible one, with the bright crabs giving the film more visual texture, something entrancingly alien to cut to between close-shot stories of human suffering.
The movie opens with an escape, a man scaling a fence then hurtling through the woods, a staged version of something we hear about which may not have even happened, since we learn that the authorities are being misleading on purpose. The counselor’s view is that she can’t be helpful from just a single conversation, and there’s no guarantee if or when she’ll get to visit with her patients again. The final scene shows her packing up to leave the island with her family, the whole endeavor possibly a failure.
In an essential article, The Guardian says the filmmaker and counselor Poh Lin Lee are friends, that the film was made from multiple visits over four years, and that interviews conducted on the island were filmed in secret from the government.
Poh Lin uses a tableau of sand and small toy figures to help one woman process her trauma, poetically describing the grains of sand as mountains that have been reduced to their finest form, but mostly she just listens, and listens, and listens. She’s a willing sponge for their guilt, at one point moving over to sit next to and comfort the Syrian man who weeps as he remembers the various separations that have plagued his young life. It comes as no surprise to subsequently learn that Poh Lin is also in therapy.