Emerging out of a three-year project to train young asylum seekers in the cinematic arts, ‘Leave to Remain’ is a convincing attempt to give a voice to some of Britain’s most marginalised residents. The film’s strength is its natural, unshowy performances, many of them given by teenagers who have themselves suffered at the hands of the immigration authorities.
At a shelter for homeless teens, we’re intoduced to three troubled characters: brutalised but somehow still hopeful Guinean girl Zizidi (Yasmin Mwanza), shell-shocked newcomer Abdul (Zarrien Masieh) and confident, naturalised Omar (Noof Ousellam). A connection between the two boys is teasingly revealed as the story unfolds, all under the watchful, fatherly eye of teacher Nigel (Toby Jones).
The best scenes in ‘Leave to Remain’ are those where writer-director Bruce Goodison steps back and lets his cast loose: a rehearsal for the shelter’s nativity play, for instance, is free-flowing and genuinely funny. But attempts to slot these scrappy, believable, surprisingly ambiguous characters into a straightforward narrative structure fall flat, and there are times where the film is simply too conventional for its own good.
Nonetheless, this is a very watchable, frequently powerful film shot through with a pervasive, troubling sense of lives caught in the balance – between the horrors of home and the relative calm of London, between the joy of escape and the threat of repatriation, between ‘foreign-ness’ and ‘Englishness’.