Sitting in the cafeteria of a Serbian refugee camp, Strahinya (Ibrahim Koma), a Ghanaian soccer player who helps run the camp, tells a pair of Syrian refugees that he and his wife, Ababuo (Nancy Mensah-Offei), are economic migrants. “You from war zones have the priority,” he says dismissively about the process of asylum. Ababuo, an actress who then adds more disrespect toward the Syrians a moment later with her own dig, subtly chafes at her husband’s claims that, while they made it to Germany but were deported to Serbia two years ago, they are now content to stay.
It’s a scene full of foreshadowing in “As Far as I Can Walk,” the Serbian director and co-writer Stefan Arsenijevic’s second film. Soon enough, Ababuo will disappear suddenly with the Syrian couple, and we’ll follow Strahinya as he travels far and wide in search of her (the film is a loose adaptation of a Serbian medieval epic poem). But the exchange also gestures toward a certain queasy ambivalence the film engenders about the relationship of the characters to the larger political context.
Exceptionally well-crafted and anchored by moving performances from Koma and Mensah-Offei, the film is, in one sense, a great work about that basic human desire to long for something better, and the heartbreak that often comes with it. And yet, even as Arsenijevic thankfully does not fetishize suffering nor turn his characters into political props, the film unintentionally aligns with Strahinya and Ababuo’s crass attitude in the cafeteria; as this Serbian parable about African migrants is set against the backdrop of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, the crisis ultimately becomes just that — simply a dramatic backdrop.
For some, like Strahinya and Ababuo, that is indeed what some political crises are as they try to find their way to a better life. At the end of the film, Strahinya sits on a bus, his heart and will broken. We feel it for him, too. Yet as he looks out the window, scattered groups of Syrian refugees zoom past, rendered faceless as they trudge along the path in the cold.
As Far as I Can Walk
Not Rated. In English and Serbian, with subtitles. Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theaters.