Illegal Woman; when an ‘illegal’ gets a voice to fight-Peju Akande

Cast: Daniel Faraldo, Isak Férriz, Yolanda Sey. Director. Ramon Térmens . Writers. Daniel Faraldo, Ramon Térmens

The opening scene of Illegal woman is funny.

It begins with Fernando Vila, a Spanish immigration lawyer, listening patiently to a silly joke from Hussein, one of his many clients who come to him for help with visas, work permits and sundry immigration requirements.

Hussain is lying, like a few of the other sorry people we see in Fernando’s office, telling one long tale after the other. A few speak honestly; there’s one who came to Spain via a boat meant for 20 people but with 250 people; there’s another who complains of prejudice against her because she is a Muslim, there is yet another who’s obviously been using another person’s passport as his own, what is most interesting in the scene is the fact that silly and trivial as their stories are, Fernando, played by Daniel Faraldo, pays attention, he listens, he offers advice but most importantly, he empathises with them.

The dialogue between lawyer and client moves from Spanish to English with sometimes inaccurate subtitles but the viewer gets the flow of things as the movie progresses.

Upon establishing what Fernando Vila is, a sad soul of a lawyer not out for the bucks but one grappling with the burden of a dying wife, one can’t help but notice how empty he looks, bereft of any fight in him, bereft of any passion common to many lawyers. He is tired without being moody, weary without being irritable, however, we will later see Fernando catch fire when he begins to unravel the sudden death by suicide of a client, a young prostitute named Zita Krasniqi.

Illegal Woman (2020) - IMDb

Zita is a Kosovian prostitute who got into Spain illegally; her file was passed on to Fernando by another lawyer whos firm chose to wash their hands off her case. We don’t see much of Zita beyond a few scenes-when Fernando visits her at the police cell where she is kept after being caught by the police, later in court, then finally when she’s transferred to the detention centre CIE where she was said to have “committed suicide.”

Her death led to Fernando meeting Juliet Okoro, the Nigerian prostitute who is a friend to Zita. Juliet, played by Yolanda Sey, agrees with Fernando and Fatima Jameel, a human rights activist that Zita’s death at the CIE, detention centre is one too many unusual deaths recorded there. Zita will never commit suicide Juliet says, she was preparing to get married to Bakary.

Juliet, the central character in this movie, is a sex slave. Fearing she just might end up dead like Zita, Juliet pays off her ‘debts’ to the people who own her, one of whom is Mercy Okoro, a former prostitute turned mistress. But there obviously is no escape for Juliet as her passport which had been used as a collateral to keep her under close watch by her employers has been taken back to Nigeria to get another girl. With no papers, no means of identification, no protection from her bosses, we see that both Mercy and Juliet are just pawns in the clutches of a powerful mafia in cahoots with the corrupt CIE police team led by Oriol Cardenas.

The film throws up societal issues like sex trafficking, racism, police corruption, modern slavery and love. Yes, genuine love for another human being, regardless of race, sex or creed. This movie challenges stereotypes, lawyers can be empathetic; locals can help immigrants on their soil; not all immigrants are thieves and liars; corrupt police officers can fall in love with the immigrants they are hounding.

Too many timesm movies portray our biases, prejudices against one another particularly where race and gender is concerned but this one shows that in the midst of so much corruption, in the midst of heightened racism, right in the middle of a desperate need to survive, some people are still genuine in their love for a fellow human being and will go out on a limb for them without seeking gains.

The rest of the movie unravels to show Juliet’s journey to final liberation, her involvement with a corrupt policeman who falls in love with her, her final escape from the life of modern sex slavery with the  help of Fernando and Fatimah makes “Illegal Woman” a must watch this weekend.

On the downside, however, one would ask whether the Spanish casting agency couldn’t even find one authentic Nigerian for the role of Juliet Okoro and Mercy Okafor, seeing as both women are purported to be Nigerians. The story of how they got to Spain is the classic story; bandits invaded their land, “Maiduguri” as Juliet says, she ran away after her family was murdered, crossed the desert and got into Spain, via Libya and Morocco.

Apart from this irritating knack by Europeans for classifying every black person a Nigerian, the film is a good one.

Illegal Woman is currently streaming on Netflix

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