Arresting and unique, Midnight Traveler is at once an intimate study of displacement as well as a compelling road movie. The journey of the Afghani Fazili family begins in Tajikistan, where a long wait has resulted in the rejection of their asylum claim. Over the next several years, Hassan Fazili uses cell phones to film his family’s journey back to Afghanistan, and then through Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Serbia. In his company are his wife and daughters, Nargis and Zahra, two luminous, inquisitive, and infinitely funny girls whose resilient spirits shine in every scene, underlining the urgency of this flight to freedom.
The family’s migration story fluctuates between harrowing crises and absolute tedium, as they hide in safe houses, dash across borders, flee police, and wait (and wait and wait) in detention camps. Fazili was targeted for death by the Taliban, but life in Eastern Europe is hardly safe, as right-wing populism triggers riots and anti-migrant mobs threaten the family.
The phone footage is far from the typical shaky or scrappy home video, and is complemented by atmospheric soundscapes and incidental music. Fazili and his wife were both directors in Afghanistan and the film poses tough questions about the power and limits of art and cinema. Ultimately, Midnight Traveler offers a critical, and deeply moving, look at the predicament of refugees, why they resort to crossing borders illegally, and the many entanglements that face them along the way. -KR