Green Border (2023)

‘Green Border’: Czech co-production wins Special Jury Prize in Venice, sparks backlash in Poland

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Agnieszka Holland‘s Green Border, a Czech co-production, took home the Special Jury Prize at the 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival over the past weekened. Poor Things, the latest feature from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos starring Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo, won the top prize Golden Lion at the prestigious Italian festival.

Green Border tells the story of a trio of characters whose lives intersect at the border between Poland and Belarus, where refugees from multiple countries have become political pawns. Dozens have died attempting to cross the border into Poland as Russian-allied Belarus encourages those from the Middle East and elsewhere to head into the EU.

In Holland’s Green Border, Jalal Altawil stars as the patriarch of Syrian family attempting to leave Belarus for Poland. Tomasz Włosok stars as a Polish border guard, and Maja Ostaszewska portrays an activist living near the dividing line.

Green Border was a co-production between Poland, Germany, France, Belgium, and the Czech Republic, and supported by both Czech Television and the Czech Film Fund.

Polish director Holland is a graduate of Prague’s FAMU film school, and has directed a number of Czech projects including HBO’s Burning Bush, which documented the self-immolation of Jan Palach, and Charlatan, which was shortlisted for an Oscar in 2020. Her next project is a biopic of Franz Kafka slated to shoot in Prague later this year.

Green Border received rave reviews from Venice, with The Hollywood Reporter‘s Leslie Felperin declaring it a “profoundly moving, flawlessly executed” knockout. Variety‘s Jessica Kiang calls Green Border a “heart-in-mouth thriller set on the Polish-Belarusian border that wraps its social critique in the razor wire of punchy, intelligent cinematic craft.” In addition to the Special Jury Prize at Venice, Green Border was awarded four other non-statutory prizes.

Green Border (2023)
Green Border (2023)

But like the characters it portrays, Green Border has become a political target. Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro compared the film to Nazi propaganda, with director Holland demanding a formal apology before bringing defamation charges.

Right-wing groups in Poland have also attacked Green Border for its subject matter, and called for a boycott of the movie ahead of its theatrical release in the country next weekend — which also coincides with the date that Poland will submit its candidate for the Best International Film Academy Award.

“The tide of hate is almost unstoppable so we’re focusing on getting the film out there to as wide an audience as possible,” Green Border executive producer Mike Downey told Deadline, adding that the team behind the film would not be cowed by the backlash.

Agnieszka Holland during production of Green Border (2023)
Agnieszka Holland during production of Green Border (2023)

“The response by the Polish regime is business as usual for them. The attack on Agnieszka and the film is discriminatory, despicable, and hateful of the extreme right that holds power in Poland.“

Director Holland, who was born in Warsaw, told journalists that she was personally drawn to the subject matter. Star Ostaszewska, like her character, is also involved in activist efforts in support of refugees.

“When something like this happens within the territory of my country, I feel obliged to do something. It’s my duty,” Holland told press in Venice before heading to Toronto, where Green Border will have its North American premiere.

“I can’t run through the forest with a thirty-kilogram backpack at my age; I can’t do that. But I can make a film. And this film gives a voice to those who have no voice. To people who have no opportunity to tell their history and their story. It’s a film full of the worst, but also the most beautiful things.”

Green Border will release in Czech cinemas from October 19.

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

One Response

  1. Great story of immigration at the Poland-Belarus undone by art-film pretentiousness that keeps all emotion at arm’s length. The filmmakers are so concerned with the socio-political message they forget to tell a meaningful story about their specific characters.

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