Aisha (Review) – Letitia Wright Shines In This Bleak Migrant Drama

DIRECTOR: Frank Berry

CAST: Letitia Wright, Josh O’Connor, Ruth McCabe, Tara Flynn, Joanne Crawford, Abdul Alshareef, Emmet Byrne, Geraldine McAlinden

RUNNING TIME: 94 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: A Nigerian refugee (Wright) struggles to gain Irish citizenship…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Letitia Wright, who is currently crushing it with her regular Marvel appearances as well as outstanding turns in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology and the upcoming biopic The Silent Twins, now crushes it even further with a powerful lead turn in Aisha, a harrowing but also soulful account that will leave you completely, utterly crushed.

Wright plays the titular character, a young Nigerian woman who has fled her home country after her father and brother were brutally murdered, and for the last couple of years has been holed up in a migrant home somewhere in Ireland. Living under harsh conditions, with staff who treat her and fellow migrants with icy-cold disdain, Aisha barely makes enough at a small job in a hair salon, which she uses to fund the eventual migration of her currently-in-hiding mother, and all while she prepares for her interview to process her asylum claim. Amidst all this, she manages to strike up a meaningful connection with Conor (Josh O’Connor), a new security guard at her residence whose sympathy towards her plight both intrigues and frightens Aisha, whose traumatic past often gets in the way of her getting too close to people.

As you can probably imagine, with the dour tone that it carries and the heavy subject matter at its core, Aisha is not the breeziest of viewings. Writer and director Frank Berry leans in hard on the extreme difficulties that the title character and other migrants in this film face at every waking hour, from the frustrations surrounding the bureaucratic system that consistently stalls applications and then fails them for the flimsiest of reasons, to being moved across the country to different migrant housing at the drop of a hat. Each time, Berry manages to express a complicated sense of dread throughout each of his scenes, which can often arrive with a real gut-punch thanks to a slim, but no less impactful, script which, especially for any viewers with first-hand experience of the cyclical nature of migrant processing, may be traumatic or even triggering. You certainly feel the anxiety and the emotional pressure boiling for this lead character, who has clearly gone through more than a few rough experiences back home, and yet is still treated more like a statistic than an actual human being, something that Berry captures through some quiet, tender moments where enough is said without the use of dialogue.

It goes without saying, but a film like this needs an incredibly capable lead performer to drive home the raw emotion that is felt all throughout, and Letitia Wright is more than up for the task. The actor, who can also be seen this month similarly venting some raw and powerful feelings in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, delivers a highly sympathetic turn where she is able to express her character’s dire situation with just the slightest of facial inflictions, while also maintaining a captivating screen presence that holds your attention long after the scene is technically finished. Her on-screen relationship with Josh O’Connor (also very good here) is simple and sweet; never overdone for the sake of drama, nor is it so understated that you wonder why they’re even bothering to communicate with each other, you do sense a real humanity in these two whenever they’re acting opposite each other, because even amidst some devastating backstories these are a couple of lost souls who, despite everything, still manage to find as much light as possible in the darkest of places.

While sometimes it seems like there is more that could be said about the frustrations and harsh conditions that face most migrants like Aisha – as well as the fact that the movie just ends rather suddenly, with barely a climax or even much of a final resolution – it is quietly moving stuff, and a bleak reminder of how unbearable the migrant system, including the governmental bureaucracy surrounding it, can be for those who just want a fresh new start in life.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Aisha is a quietly powerful migrant drama about the anxieties and frustrations of seeking asylum under heavily bureaucratic terms, led by a moving turn by Letitia Wright who captures such emotional anguish down to a tee, while also finding sweet solace in an equally strong Josh O’Connor who lends solid support.

Aisha is now available to stream on Sky Cinema.

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