With a kind of gentle, offbeat style, French-Senegalese director Gomis tells an insightful story that cuts to the centre of one of the biggest issues in Europe at the moment: immigration and the residue of colonialism. The title is a play on words combining Africa and France, and this is precisely where the protagonist finds himself. El Hadj (Mbengue) is a charming young man from Senegal studying in Paris. When he’s picked up by the immigration service on a technicality, his world flips. He begins to loose track of who he is or what he wants. His fellow immigrant friends are themselves bundles of confusion and expectations, and as he begins to fall for Myriam (Zingg), a white woman, he really starts to doubt his firm goal to return home to his family and girlfriend, who isn’t exactly waiting patiently.
The clever thing about his film is that as El Hadj’s situation gets increasingly confusing, Gomis keeps the focus tightly (and shoots mostly in close-up), resisting the temptation to preach about the general immigration crisis and the rise in right-wing politicians in Europe. And by keeping it so internalised, he ends up making very strong statements indeed. Mbengue is terrific at the center, likeable and young, yet intelligent and thoughful, letting ideas roll around in his mind about Senegal’s colonial past and its uneasy present. There’s a lot going on here, even if it all feels a bit oblique and haphazard. Relationships are edgy and unpredictable, and the ending is startlingly authentic in its open-handed treatment of such an emotionally charged subject.