The Swiss movie Journey of Hope, which won this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, is as simple and straightforward as its title — though not nearly as upbeat. It’s about that favorite theme of high school English teachers: ”man’s inhumanity to man.” Haydar (Necmettin Cobanoglu), a Kurdish farmer with seven children, decides to pull up stakes from his native Turkey and move to Switzerland, a land — he’s been told — of unimagined economic opportunity. To pay for the trip, he and his wife (Nur Surer) sell their land and most of their possessions and take along just one of their sons, leaving the rest of the children with relatives. The journey begins happily enough, with a ride from a friendly truck driver. Before long, though, the three have entrusted themselves to a batch of exploitative smugglers who don’t give a damn whether they make it to Switzerland or not. Along with some other refugees, they’re promised a guided trip over the Alps. Then they’re plunked down at the foot of the icy mountains and left to make the treacherous journey themselves.
Director Xavier Koller is working from a true story, yet he never really shows us why the characters need to leave their native soil (the farm life they’re abandoning is far from impoverished). This skimpiness of background gives Journey of Hope a slightly generic feel. It’s like one of those ”universal” animated fables about an Everyman struggling nobly against external forces. On that elemental level, however, the movie packs a punch. There’s one unforgettable image: Attempting to lighten his load, a refugee tosses a suitcase full of books down the mountain, and as it tumbles open in slow motion, the books scattering everywhere, the movie evokes how these desperate wanderers are tossing away an entire culture for a pipe dream of economic freedom. The trek through the Alps is very well staged — you feel every frozen gust — and Cobanoglu, with his sad, burning eyes, becomes a poignant emblem of yearning and despair. B-