Nina Kusturica has made a gripping and simple film about young refugees.
“A few days ago four policemen beat me up. It still hurts here,” says a dark-eyed boy who’s not more than 13 years old, and points at his back. He seems to be talking about an action film that had little effect on him. He has already experienced too much to let new horrors get under his skin. The other boys sitting in a circle nod, all of them have similar stories to tell. An evening chat over coffee at Patras harbor, in Greece, the European Union.
What Nina Kusturica says in her documentary “Little Alien” would be hard to believe if not for the descriptions in numerous reports from refugee organizations and the UN’s Refugee Agency: Violations of human rights are routine on the edges of Fortress Europe. Kusturica juxtaposes abstract concepts and personal stories of individuals: children sitting around a campfire of burning garbage, drinking coffee with stray cats in half-demolished buildings, planning to cross the Mediterranean to the heart of Europe, and talking on a pay phone to dad in Afghanistan, promising him that everything will be fine.
Despite the complexity of this theme, it’s made tangible by Kusturica’s approach: She spent a great deal of time gaining the protagonists’ trust. This makes the scenes that are almost uncomfortably intimate more tangible and direct.
Highly recommended.
der Standard, Maria Sterkl

Almost Run Over by Huge Tires.
In the lens of the heat-sensitive camera, human bodies appear as groups of dark spots. The border guard says, “The journey ends here. For them.” He’s referring to the Ukrainian refugees caught on film. Others make it to the initial-reception center, where an informational message informs them that smuggler organizations are only interested in their money and not in them as human beings. There’s a scene of someone paddling home, “return counseling” is the technical term. A combination of a question and exhortation, not very subtle, stands below it in large letters: “You want to go back?!”
“Little Alien” is tailored to the experiences of refugees: This simple strategy introduces the theme of their instrumentalization by the media and politicians. Watering down the effect with tactics intended to arouse the viewer’s sympathy is avoided: A man harasses and insults Asha and Nura at a train station, and a woman accompanying them explains that “he’s afraid someone will take something away from him.” The young women smile, and later they chat about plastic surgery, Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. Casual and everyday matters are the most important things with an issue that the broad public hears about only in the form of political polemic and news reports.
Die Presse

Living in Uncertainty
An unforgettable look at the daily lives of young refugees.
“Little Alien” demonstrates a fine sense of these well-known elements of systematic exclusion and separation. The responsible parties never appear in the film, but the mechanisms, border fences and surveillance systems have obviously been put there intentionallydespite the fact that somebody designed and “loaded” the informational display shown at the beginning, including “Blue Danube.”
… a balanced portrait of the present state of affairs is created during and between these scenes and sketches of daily life. The openness of this portrait is equal to the theme’s complexity in the same way as its protagonists’ integrity.
Isabella Reicher, Der Standard

There are no conventional interviews, the viewer becomes an observer. The camera’s always present, during police questioning and conversations with counselors, while the girls are picking out clothes at a charity shop, and during personal phone conversations.
The things these young people have experienced, their personal stories of fleeing, the beatings, the loneliness, the humiliation: All this is solely hinted at, sometimes in the jokes they make among themselves. At times the viewer receives only an intimation of these personal tragedies. Thumbnail sketches of fear.
What remains unsaid is truly shocking. When the protagonists suddenly stop talking, in the middle of a sentence, when they can’t find the right words to describe something. A silence louder than any words.
This powerful film’s message is equally simple and momentous: Behind every statistic about foreigners is a human being, and behind every number in the system is an individual’s fate.
Oberösterreichische Nachrichten

Nina Kusturica’s Powerful Documentary “Little Alien”
At her age most young people are finishing high school, getting job training, having their first relationship, and going out with friends. The protagonists in Nina Kusturica’s documentary “Little Alien” want to do the same things, but their first life experiences are quite different.
They’re familiar with the roads and harbors of Spain, Greece and Morocco, places other aliens with documents and money would never visit. They know how to disappear and survive without anyone’s help, though they aren’t tough and coola report on the lives of aliens at Europe’s borders, in the middle of Vienna, Linz and Traiskirchen.
Vorarlberger Nachrichten

“Little Alien” is not only touching, it also provides food for thought. The portrayal of these young people on their journeys is horrifying, and at the same time, the other side is shown, in the form of high-tech border surveillance equipment. The film’s set in the middle of Austria, in Vienna, Traiskirchen and Linz. It’s surprising how the director was able to package her images without making any accusations or lecturing.
The young people themselves are the focus. Kusturica consciously gives them freedom so that happy and emotional moments can develop. She shows teenagers in love who’re enjoying their youth despite problems with the authorities and red tape. In an interview with Corinna Milborn the director explained that her intention was to show that young refugees are no different than other teenagers. And so, the film’s protagonists dance happily and play in the snow. Nina Kusturica, once a refugee herself, is familiar with the difficulties her protagonists are confronted with. At the same time however she repeatedly points out that not every refugee’s journey and not every asylum application fits a particular pattern. This is also a reminder that individuals and their well-being should be the most important thing, not the law. What remains is the question of what could be wrong with this system.
“Little Alien” deals sensitively with a number of related themes involving the authorities’ failures, the difficulties experienced by asylum seekers and the problems relating to borders. A film that reflects intelligently., Alexandra Toth

“Little Alien” is made outstanding by its excellent structuring, which covers extensive thematic areas such as difficult issues involving borders, the failings of government officials and problems experienced by asylum seekers with formal consistency. A film that stands apart in a positive way because of its intelligent approach and touching personal stories.
David Rams, Allesfilm

Nina Kusturica, the Austrian director of “Little Alien,” has made a straightforward film which is reflective to an extremely intelligent degree. She accompanied young people over more than a year, watching them with a sensitive eye for minor matters on their journey into an uncertain future. This is a matter of personal concern, a statement that the director and her team made again after the premiere: When taking the stage for a discussion with the audience, they wore life preservers in solidarity with the many refugees who drown every year on their dangerous journeys toward a better life.
Köksal Baltaci, Tiroler Tageszeitung

The film is characterized by sensitive observation. Conventional interviews were not employed in the main narrative threads; instead, the viewer accompanies the protagonists Asha and Nura from Somalia, Alem und Jawid from Afghanistan, and many others like just another member of the group on their way into and through a world which is new to them. In addition, a matter-of-fact look at the “other side,” the advanced technology of the border installations and surveillance centers around the European Union, is taken in a few strategically placed scenes. These images evoke painful memories of the Berlin Wall and similar structures.
Max Werschitz, Kinomo

Without reconstructing individual stories of personal suffering, Kusturica successfully highlights a number of traumatic experiences: a gunshot wound that continues to cause headaches, the sea journey to Lampedusa, the innumerable beatings and mistreatment at the hands of police officers and soldiers. Kusturica does not juxtapose the government officials, such as at the Federal Asylum Office, who make the decisions and the young people, with the former as faceless anonymous forces; she sketches a precise portrait of the institutional process and the dynamic involved, and even the helpers, organizations and interpreters are part of one and the same system. “If I had stayed in Afghanistan, they would have shot me and then I’d have peace,” says one of the refugees. “Tell them that here and they’ll shoot you too,” replies another tersely.
Michael Pekler, Der Standard

They are familiar with the streets and harbors of Spain, Greece and Morocco that another kind of alien, one with money and documents, would not normally see.
They know how to disappear and get by without help, though they never seem tough or cool. The documentary’s locations are “Europe’s borders” in the middle of Vienna, Linz and Traiskirchen.
These are oppressive images, without commentary, in which young people are shown living in parks and condemned buildings.
At the borders the police apparently act in a gray area and, according to what the refugees say, they tend to be fast with clubs and their fists.
Nina Kusturica has made a powerful film that is certainly worth seeing.
Pascal Honisch, Kurier

An animated sequence of images, scenes from a flight: At times there are too many to take in, and they are difficult to categorize, making use of things from the past, the narrative illuminated by spotlights. In this way Kusturica finds a dramatic structure, a narrative method for found realities. The immediacy of a number of scenes lays a claim to being political, where convention would normally be expected. The refugee as an abused subject, for example. Instead, there are traces leading back to the place of origin, though not in a geographic sense, but in physical postures, that can be read on someone’s face, for example. Not in a frown, but in laughter.
“I’ve never laughed so hard, Hallazi,” jokes a young woman from Somalia in a small group of people from her home country. At the non-place of their gathering—a restaurant, the lounge at an organization?—something becomes evident behind what’s happening, the surface of the image: an attitude toward, a way of behaving in a certain situation.
It’s surprising, what “Little Alien” manages to do on this level: Social stigmatization, whether with good or bad intentions, can’t be found here. The main thing is the presentation of places, actors, experiences and signals in a context. But a great deal is ambiguous: Government offices and organizations look after these minor refugees, and they also organize and regulate them. Kusturica successfully makes these ambivalences visible. The young peoples’ hopes collide with processes they must submit to in order to make their hopes become reality—trying to assert themselves at the same time. In just a few scenes the selected material provides a clear portrait of what dealing with government bureaucrats charged with administering migrants is like.
In spite of the camera’s presence, grotesque moments clearly show that the distance from “foreign” to “alien“ isn’t very far: Different worlds, not cultures, meet here.
Gunnar Landsgesell, Kolik Film