STYX, by Wolfgang Fischer, is a taut moral thriller about Europe’s refugee crisis that explores what happens when self-reliance runs into the desperation of others.
Crossing the Barby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
It’s fascinating to see expert amateur sailor, doctor Rike (Suzanne Wolff, Return to Montauk) prepare to embark from Gibraltar on a solo, holiday voyage in a tiny yacht called Asa Gray across 5,000 km of open Atlantic. Very professionally, she has equipped herself for every eventuality. Except one.
After she competently weathers a sudden storm, her solitary life afloat sailing the clear blue sea miles from anywhere off the west coast of Africa is idyllic – until she comes across a heavily overloaded boat full of African migrants or refugees that’s close to sinking. The desperate people onboard wave and cry out to her. Rike radios the coastguard for help. There are too many people for her to save on her small boat and the coastguard tells her to keep her distance and just wait. But when too much time passes and still no rescue boat arrives, raising her suspicions that this is intentional.
As a humanitarian, a strong woman and a good person, Rike feels compelled to sail nearer with tragic results. However, one boy (Gedion Oduor Wekes) manages to swim across to her yacht and she pulls him on board. He tells her his sister is still aboard the sinking ship. He is not quite the passive victim she anticipated. Rike’s moral quandary is gut-wrenching as first world and third world collide suddenly and violently on the deck of her yacht as the nearby cries grow weaker.
The Styx was, of course, the river that the dead had to cross between the worlds of the living and the dead in classical Greek mythology. The ferryman Charon transported the souls of the newly dead across this river into the underworld.
The film STYX is a tense, totally absorbing, thought-provoking jolt to comfortable Western complacency and indifference to the plight of others. It has no need to over-emotionalise or exaggerate to make its powerful point. Fire at Sea makes a good counterpoint.
STYX premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 26 April 2019 in the UK.