Olivier Dury
France 2008 | 46 Min. | 35 mm, OmeU

One image, in par­tic­u­lar, is likely to haunt view­ers: that of many men hud­dled togeth­er on the back of a truck. The men are headed north­ward, from Niger to the coast of Alge­ria. Just how long they will be trav­el­ling depends on count­less unknowns. And once they’ve reached the African coast of the Mediter­ranean, they’ll still be far from their goal, for it is only then that their dan­ger­ous attempt to cross the sea to Europe begins. Theirs is a jour­ney in hopes of a better life – one that fre­quent­ly ends in death. 

What sets MIRAGES – the first mid-length doc­u­men­tary by French direc­tor Olivi­er Dury – apart from other films, is the fact that the film­mak­er avoids por­tray­ing a simple tale of suf­fer­ing meant to inspire sym­pa­thy on the part of West­ern audi­ences. Dury squeezes him­self and his camera onto one of three depart­ing trucks, and he resists the temp­ta­tion to seek out only spec­tac­u­lar imagery: He gazes out the wind­shield at the land­scape and the tracks left behind in the sand; he watch­es as the driver changes a tire. We encounter three ani­mals in the course of this won­der­ful­ly pho­tographed film: a frog, a snake, and a beetle, which, caught on its back, kicks at the air. At night, the men build a camp­fire from dry branch­es to com­fort them from the cold of the Sahara. Dury doc­u­ments the every­day real­i­ty that comes before the famil­iar TV images of strand­ed, dead, or deport­ed refugees. 

From start to finish, the film barely fea­tures any dia­logue. It simply isn’t nec­es­sary. For the sto­ries of these men, who, at the start of the film, limit their words to a brief state­ment about their place of origin – Guinea, Sene­gal, Ghana – are not omit­ted because they are insignif­i­cant or inter­change­able. Rather, the men have no need to explain them­selves, since, at least in this part of the world, their indi­vid­ual sto­ries are gen­er­al­ly accept­ed and seen as valid. At the Libyan border, approx­i­mate­ly 300 kilo­me­ters away from their final des­ti­na­tion, Dury leaves the convoy and goes his sep­a­rate way. Wrapped in blan­kets to pro­tect them­selves from sand and wind, the men wave good­bye to the film­mak­er. In the time it takes to catch a final, close-up glimpse of each of the men’s faces, the desert sand has once more swal­lowed up their tracks. (Michael Pekler)