Film Review: Aisha (2022)

Letitia Wright excels as the title character in this sobering Irish refugee drama Aisha

“Try and put them in the room…”

Frank Barry’s film takes no prisoners in its unflinching look at the grim realities of trying to seek asylum in the Western world. Aisha may be set in Dublin but it could be set in too many different countries, where the process of seeking leave to remain is utterly dehumanising. On this evidence though, Ireland’s notorious direct provision system feels particularly ripe for hauling over the coals.

Having fled Nigeria after the murder of her brother and father and with her mother still in hiding there, Aisha sought protection in Ireland. But swallowed up by a system that has seen her in limbo for over a year, she’s at the mercy of a government that cares too little and private companies who care too much about making profit at the expense of the refugees and asylum seekers in their care.

Barry expertly takes us through the severe indignities imposed upon them. The aggressions both micro- and macro-; the realities of what being cooped up in acommodation is like versus the laughable tabloid interpretation of free hotel rooms for all; the vital importance of finding some kind of meaningful human connection to set up in the face of those whose behaviour might be considered less than…

Wright’s Aisha tries to be that person for the people around her but Barry takes our breath away with the revelation of how even that can be used to count against her, her deeply expressive eyes scarcely believing how life is piling on and piling on. Some small joy comes in meeting Josh O’Connor’s Conor, a security guard with a heart of gold (and a past) but there’s an unsparing realism here that leaves us in no doubt that this system is fucked.

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