Illustration by Ahmed Bilal

Exploring Migration in Film

Recommendations of films exploring the complexities of migration and the stories of migrants as they cross multiple borders in search of a better life.

Dec 12, 2022

Migration has long been a complex and multifaceted issue, and many filmmakers have used film to bring attention to the stories and experiences of migrants across the globe. This powerful storytelling medium explores migration as a means to achieve better opportunities and living conditions, and often stresses on the challenges, heartbreak, and dramatic events of migration. Here are my recommendations for movies on migration you must watch if this topic interests you:
Monsieur Lazhar
Set in 21st century Canada, Monsieur Lazhar is a French-based film starring Algerian comedian and actor Mohamed Fellag as the main character Bachir Lazhar. Bachir is an Algerian asylum seeker during the Algerian civil war who steps in to teach at a primary school when the former full-time teacher ropes herself to the ceiling of her classroom and commits suicide. Lazhar is a representation of a model migrant in all his attributes as a country’s "perfect immigrant,” but is not afraid to insist that the children don't keep quiet when it comes to the trauma of remembering their sweet teacher. A depiction of love, relationships, justice, and humanity, this film is a beautiful recreation of the complexity and importance of migration.
Inch'Allah Dimanche
Set during the colonial period Algeria, the movie begins with the reunion of Zouina, her mother-in-law, and her children meeting her husband in France after the passing of France's Family Reunification laws, only to be met with hostility from a community due to her ethnic origins and brutal language from her mother-in-law. Supported only by a new-found feminist friend, Zouina sets out unnoticed to look for company in other Algerian women, only to suffer a rejection when she finally meets an Algerian mother who has been living in France for years. Zouina gains her own strength and self-awareness as a woman through continued journeys outside her household and through discovering and listening to feminist talks on the radio. A beautiful perspective of women in migration and the complexities that come with it, this movie is sure to make one cry, rethink, and remember.
Rocky Balboa
Rocky Balboa is a sports drama film featuring retired American boxer “Rocky” who is of Italian descent. The film follows his grief after losing his wife to cancer and his struggling relationship with his son, a young employee at a corporation. After meeting a former classmate and her son, Rocky is reminded of his freedom and passion as a boxer, and is soon determined to prove himself as a still-standing boxing legend when he is publicly challenged. After months of training himself, Rocky steps back into the ring once again to compete in the match that may make or end his life.
Based loosely on the film’s director, Lee Isaac Chung’s childhood of growing up on a farm in Arkansas in the 1980s, Minari is a beautiful story of a Korean immigrant family’s move to rural Arkansas from California in search of their own American dream. Family disagreements play a key role in the film; Jacob, the film’s patriarch, wants to grow Korean vegetables for his fellow Korean-Americans, while his wife, Monica, is dissatisfied about living in a mobile home on the farm and longs to move back to California. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the movie is the embrace between Monica and her mother, who moves to be with the family from South Korea, when they see one another for the first time in eight years. Minari’s brilliance truly lies in the scenes where we see love, hope, and the fragments of home for immigrants chasing their dreams in new countries.
The Dupes
The Dupes is the heart-wrenching story of three Palestinian men who are hoping to illegally cross into Kuwait in hopes of a better future. The film tells the background stories of each of the three men, all living in poverty and desperate for a better life in Kuwait. They try to cross into Kuwait with the help of Abul-khaizaran, a Palestinian truck driver. After being tricked by the false promises of multiple smugglers, the three men decide to risk their lives and cross the border being hidden inside Abul-Khaizaran’s water tank in the sweltering desert heat. The smuggling of the protagonists is portrayed such that you can’t help being on edge as they go through the hellish experiences of being trapped inside a steel water tank, their fate resting on whether their smuggler would return with the documents to cross the border before the three suffocate to death.
Sarah Were is a contributing writer. Email them at
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