Aisha REVIEW – Quietly Devastating

Aisha charts the sometimes painful and bleak experience of being a refugee.

Aisha
Aisha

Aisha (Letitia Wright) is a Nigerian refugee who’s been in Ireland for about a year. She fled her home country after her father and brother were killed due to loans her father borrowed for her University fees, which he was unable to pay back. She stays in a residential centre, and works at a salon doing hair and nails. There’s a sense of pathos felt here, since Aisha was studying at University before her life was upended, and now has to do whatever job she can get.

She’s preparing for an interview that will determine if she can stay in the country, and hopefully bring her mother over. Her mother is currently hiding in Lagos as her life too is in danger, and Aisha finds herself in a powerless position of wanting to help her mother but being unable to do anything since she has no agency over anything she does.

Frank Berry’s film offers us a peek into the life of a refugee, and how dehumanizing it can be. Every detail of Aisha’s former life is held up to scrutiny – the constant close-ups on Wright’s face helps emphasize this – be it how long it’s been since her father and brother’s death, or what happened to her marriage. Aisha also has to deal with the temperamental ways of the manager at her residence, who doesn’t tolerate too many questions and isn’t above putting “insubordinate” in her file just because she won’t see her current home as a prison and toe the line when she’s supposed to.

It’s a lonely and isolating life. We see Aisha transfer out of residential centres frequently, due to the whims of management or at times because they simply do not have the capacity to house her. There’s practically no privacy – Aisha’s time in the toilet is interrupted by a male resident’s intrusion – and Aisha has to share what little space she’s given. It’s difficult to even get close to anyone, since she isn’t at any place for too long. Wright is terrific, and shows us so much of Aisha’s interior through the subtleties in her performance.

In the midst of all this uncertainty in her life, she forges a friendship with one of the guards Conor (Josh O’Connor). Conor is empathetic young man who is able to relate to Aisha and her plight perhaps because he was formerly incarcerated for drug-related crimes. He understands what it means to feel like you have no agency.

O’Connor’s range is truly impeccable. He played a charming asshole in Challengers, and his performance here as Conor is completely contrasting. Conor is quiet, shy, sensitive, and while his role in the film isn’t as fully developed as it could be – his character is really there as a support system for Aisha – O’Connor’s performance allows the friendship between the two to feel authentic and genuine. Their scenes together are the most joyous parts of the film, be it their banter or their moments in the kitchen, it’s sincerely moving to see these two young, lonely people connect.

The movie ends with Aisha’s journey far from complete. It isn’t neat and tidy, because real life usually isn’t. We’re not sure how her story will end, but her relationship with Conor provides a sweet hopefulness, that maybe things won’t be so bleak.

Review screener provided.

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Aisha
Verdict
Frank Berry's film moves like a docudrama. It is quietly affecting, and bolstered by terrific performances from Letitia Wright and Josh O'Connor.
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